When we get ill: life expectancy

Page last updated: September 2021
As the data on this page has been updated, it will not align with figures in pdf versions of the 2019 State of Suffolk report. 

 

1 Five key points

  1. These life expectancy estimates pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on period life expectancy will be shown in the National life table for 2018 to 2020 which will be published in Autumn 2021.  (2 Why is life expectancy important in Suffolk?)
     
  2. Typically, Suffolk residents live longer than the England average and females live longer than males. Life expectancy at birth in 2017-19 was 84.3 for females and 80.9 years for males in Suffolk. Both figures are statistically significantly higher than the figures for England (83.4 for females and 79.8 for males). (3.1 Life expectancy)
     
  3. In Suffolk, people living in the most deprived areas are expected to live shorter lives than those living in the least deprived areas. For men and women, the difference is 7.0 and 5.0 years, respectively.  (3.2 Inequality in life expectancy)
     
  4. After decades of steady improvements in life expectancy in the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in 2018 on the slowdown in increases in life expectancy since 2011. This trend is continued in the most recent data. Life expectancy at birth in the UK in 2017 to 2019 was 79.4 years for males and 83.1 years for females.  Only slight improvements were observed from 2016 to 2018 of 6.3 weeks and 7.3 weeks for males and females respectively. (3.1 Life expectancy)
     
  5. Healthy life expectancy for Suffolk females has decreased over the last 10 years. In 2017-19, healthy life expectancy at birth for females was 62.9 years, compared to 68.1 years in 2009-11.  Suffolk males can expect a healthy life expectancy of 65.1 years in 2017-19, statistically similar to 2009-11 (65.1 years). (3.3 Healthy life expectancy)

2 Why is life expectancy important in Suffolk?

Life expectancy is perhaps the single most important measure of health. It is comparable across geographical areas and asks the most fundamental question concerning health: how long can the typical person expect to live? Also, how long can the typical person expect to live in good health?

Many factors influence life expectancy and one of the most widely recognised is deprivation. The government measure of the relative deprivation of areas within England is known as the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). It considers seven domains: income; employment; education, skills and training; health; crime; barriers to housing and services; and living environment.

The link between deprivation and life expectancy is described in the Kings Fund report using Office for National Statistics (ONS) data:

The (ONS) publish life expectancy estimates on a regular basis, the most recent estimates are for 2017-2019.  These life expectancy estimates pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The impact of COVID-19 on period life expectancy will be shown in the National life table for 2018 to 2020 which will be published in Autumn 2021.
  • The Kings Fund note mortality data for certain population groups due to COVID-19 shows inequalities which in turn will impact on life expectancy.
  • Preliminary research (using data up until November 2020), indicates that life expectancy at birth dropped 0.9 and 1.2 years for women and men relative to the 2019 levels.

3 What is the life expectancy picture for Suffolk?

3.1 Life expectancy

Typically, Suffolk residents live longer than the England average and, nationwide, females live longer than males. Life expectancy at birth in 2017-19 in Suffolk was 84.3 years for females and 80.9 for males. This is statistically significantly higher than the figures for England (83.4 years for females and 79.8 years for males).

However, there is variation across Suffolk. Most districts and boroughs in Suffolk (including Suffolk as a whole) have a significantly higher life expectancy at birth for both males and females than England as a whole. However, life expectancies at birth Ipswich males and females are comparable to figures for England, the picture is similar for life expectancy at age 65.

Table 1: Life expectancy at birth and at 65 years for local areas, 2017-19

 

Life Expectancy at Birth

Life Expectancy at 65

 
 
 

Female

Male

Female

Male

 

Babergh

85.2

81.8

22.3

19.9

 

East Suffolk

83.8

80.7

21.9

19.6

 

Ipswich

83.2

79.5

20.9

19.0

 

Mid Suffolk

85.0

81.7

22.4

19.8

 

West Suffolk

84.5

81.3

22.3

20.0

 

Suffolk

84.3

80.9

22.0

19.7

 

England

83.4

79.8

21.3

19.0

 

Colour notes statistical significance compared to England:
Green=better, yellow=similar, red=worse
Source: PHE Health Profiles (2021)

After decades of steady improvements in life expectancy in the UK, the Office for National Statistics reported in 2018 on the slowdown in increases in life expectancy since 2011. This trend is continued in the most recent data. Life expectancy at birth in the UK in 2017 to 2019 was 79.4 years for males and 83.1 years for females.  Only slight improvements were observed from 2016 to 2018 of 6.3 weeks and 7.3 weeks for males and females respectively.  

This is also the first time since the ONS’s published data in 1981-1983 that increases in female life expectancy have overtaken those for males. The ONS note that it is too early to tell whether this will be a continuing trend, given that this is the first time this has occurred in the published data series.  However, they suggest this change may be because the effects that most likely increased life expectancy in men during the twentieth century are now waning. For instance, the reduction in the proportion of men who smoke, as well as a reduction in the number of agricultural and manufacturing jobs and the increase in jobs in the service sector (which are safer and are less physically demanding).

Proposed reasons for the overall slowdown in increases in life expectancy include:

  • excess winter mortality in 2014 and 2015 affected the size of improvements in life expectancy in the 2015 to 2017 period
  • diminishing reductions in mortality from heart disease and stroke – two leading causes of death – has had a significant impact on these trends. With 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes potentially avoidable, this shows the importance of addressing risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and other causes of inequalities 
  • mortality rates from dementia have increased, but this is largely due to changes in diagnostic and recording practices. Dementia is already the leading cause of death in women and is likely to become the leading cause of death in men too, overtaking heart disease
  • large increases in deaths in the winters between 2014 and 2018, which have been seen across many European countries. A particular subtype of flu known to predominantly affect older people has been more common during these winters
  • more older people living with dementia and other long-term conditions, which may make them particularly vulnerable to the effects of flu and other winter risks, and who may be particularly reliant on health and social care services
  • an increase in death rates from accidental poisoning, in particular, drug misuse - this led to mortality rates among younger adults making no contribution to changes in life expectancy trends between 2011 and 2016, in contrast to the small positive contributions seen in previous years

3.2 Inequality in life expectancy

Both locally and nationally, people living in the most deprived areas are expected to live shorter lives than those living in the least deprived areas. The slope index of inequality (SII) is a measure of how much life expectancy varies with deprivation. It takes account of health inequalities across the whole range of deprivation within areas and summarises this in a single number. This represents the range in years of life expectancy across the social gradient from most to least deprived, based on a statistical analysis of the relationship between life expectancy and deprivation across all deprivation deciles. The SII of 9.4 for males in England indicates that males in the most deprived decile are expected to live for 9.4 fewer years than males in the least deprived decile.

Inequality in life expectancy is less extreme in Suffolk compared to England. In England, males and females living in the most deprived areas are expected to live for 9.4 (males) and 7.6 (females) fewer years than people living in the least deprived areas. In Suffolk, the difference is 7.0 and 5.0 years for males and females respectively. Whilst inequality in Suffolk is less pronounced than nationally, it persists in both males and females in Suffolk – with no evidence of a sustained reduction in inequality over recent years. 

Table 2: Inequality in life expectancy at birth and at 65 years, districts, Suffolk, England, 2017-19

 

Inequality in life expectancy at birth, 2017-19

Inequality in life expectancy at 65 years, 2017-19

Area Name

Male

Female

Male

Female

Babergh

5.4

4.7

2.3

3.5

East Suffolk

6.3

5.7

2.5

2.8

Ipswich

8.1

5.0

4.1

4.3

Mid Suffolk

6.0

5.0

4.7

5.0

West Suffolk

5.8

3.5

3.0

3.3

Suffolk

7.0

5.0

3.1

3.1

England

9.4

7.6

4.9

4.7

Source: PHE Health Profiles (2021)

There is a wide variation in inequality between districts and boroughs. Ipswich males and East Suffolk females have the highest inequality in life expectancy at birth.  At 65 years, males and females in Mid Suffolk have the highest inequality in life expectancy.

3.3 Healthy life expectancy

Healthy life expectancy at birth is a measure of the average number of years a person would expect to live in good health based on contemporary mortality rates and prevalence of self-reported good health. In 2017-19, healthy life expectancy among Suffolk residents was 62.9 years among females and 65.1 years among males. According to these figures, females in Suffolk can expect to live around 75% of their life in good health, whereas males can expect to live 80% of their life in good health. Whilst healthy life expectancy for males in Suffolk was statistically significantly higher compared to England, for females life expectancy was statistically similar to England. Compared to 2009-11 data, where male healthy life expectancy in Suffolk was statistically significantly lower compared to females, there is now no significant difference.

Between 2009-11 and 2017-19, healthy life expectancy at birth decreased for Suffolk females, but remained similar for Suffolk males. It is worth noting that this measure is based on self-reported good health.

Healthy life expectancy at birth, Suffolk, East of England, England, 2009-19

 

2009-11

2017-19

Area

Male

Female

Male

Female

 Suffolk

65.3

68.1

65.1

62.9

 East of England

64.7

66.2

64.4

64.2

 England

63.0

64.0

63.2

63.5

Colour notes statistical significance compared to England:
Green=better, yellow=similar, red=worse
Source: PHE Health Profiles (2021)