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Life expectancy average rises for both sexes

19 December 2019

The average life expectancy for men and women in Britain has risen in the past three years, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The average lifespan of men increased by 7.4 weeks to 79.3 between 2015 and 2018, while for women, it rose by 4.6 weeks to 82.9 years. However, the rate of improvement has slowed down significantly since the turn of the century.

Stephen Lowe, group communications director, Just Group, said: “For those wondering how many birthdays they might have left to enjoy, it is interesting to note that the most likely age of death – the modal age – is about seven years later than the average age of death.

“For individuals, life expectancy may be interesting but is not a good figure to anchor on given the range of possible outcomes that might apply to their unique case. Some people die before you would expect while others survive far beyond average life expectancy. We don’t know which group we will fall into, so it is important to make financial plans that cover a wide range of possibilities.”

The figures also revealed a stark divide between the north and south of England. Life expectancy at birth was shown to be highest in the four most southerly regions of England in 2016 to 2018, with London continuing to show the largest gain. Males born in London are now set to reach 80.7 years old and girls 84.5 years of age.

In comparison, the North East – the region with the lowest life expectancy – recorded a difference of 2.8 years for both males and females.

Meanwhile, the life expectancies of both males and females in Scotland have fallen between 2013 to 2015 and 2016 to 2018, while welsh males have also experienced a decrease over the same time period.

The vast differences create significant challenges when it comes to retirement income provision and state pension. While the current flat-rate state pension system and universal retirement age has sought to make the system as simple as possible, it also means those with the lowest life expectancies will, on average, receive the least.

Tom Selby, senior analyst, AJ Bell, said: “Some will argue this is fair given higher earners will, on average, pay more in National Insurance contributions over their lifetimes. However, there is a debate to be had about the future balance between simplicity and fairness in the system given the huge inequalities we can see across the country.”

The data also showed that changes to healthy life expectancy at birth were smaller than life expectancy in the UK between 2009 to 2011 and 2016 to 2018, causing the years lived in poorer health to increase more than the years lived in good health. The figures showed that the only group of people who have a healthy life expectancy over 66 are females in the south east.

According to Steven Cameron, pensions director, Aegon, the number of years people can expect to live in good health has become an increasingly important factor.

He said: “With the state pension expected to rise further, this highlights the need for individuals to make sure that they are making adequate private pension provision for the future as they may not be willing or able to work until state pension age.

“On a positive note, helped by the new pension freedoms, we are seeing many individuals opting for a transitional approach to retirement, reducing hours and drawing part of their pension in the years around traditional retirement ages.”

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