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On Prime Minister's Question Time, recently (19 July 2017), Jeremy Corbyn claimed:

"Life expectancy stalling for the first time in 100 years"

To which the Prime Minister's response:

"The right honourable gentleman is of course wrong in some of the facts he's putting forward"

and continues to say:

"Life expectancy continues to rise"

There are a few claims later on that either is right but no evidence provided.

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    This seems to be the source of the claims, although I would take some of the stuff at the bottom with a grain of salt. I'm pretty sure that the primary driver of the rise in the life expectancy of developed nations is because of the drastically reduced infant mortality rate. – DenisS Jul 19 '17 at 18:10
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    Given the rise in obesity and sedentary lifestyles, isn't this to be expected? – jamesqf Jul 20 '17 at 5:59
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It isn't "stalling" but it is improving more slowly than the trend up to 2010.

There is some wiggle room in the word "stalling" that makes it a hard claim to be precise about. But showing the actual figures can help clarify the situation. Newspaper headlines and speculation about the possible causes of the "stall" have not usually contributed much clarity.

The BMJ however had a useful article earlier in 2017 which showed this chart which compares mortality to the level in 2001:

BMJ image of relative mortality in older age groups vs 2001

The article summarised:

On 6 April 2017 the UK Office for National Statistics released an analysis of deaths in England from January 2001 to the end of December 2016.4 It said that fewer deaths were registered in 2016 (491 000) than in 2015 and that the death rate in 2016 (958.0 deaths per 100 000 population) was the second lowest since 2001. Life expectancy in 2016 was higher than in 2015, and the number of deaths in 2016 was lower than expected based on the average death rate between 2011 and 2015 (973.3 per 100 000). Death rates have fallen among people aged over 75 since 2001, by almost a third for those aged 75 to 79, but “most of the fall was up to 2011, and there has been little change since then”.

In summary, it looks like life expectancy is still improving but since 2010 at a much slower rate than in the previous decade. So you could, at a stretch, call that a "stall" but it might be more accurate to call it a slowdown.

John Appleby, a respected UK health economist, posted this on twitter in response to some of the media noise (original tweet here, but he didn't quote the chart's source):

appleby mortality chart

This clarifies that the trend is still positive, but much lower than before.

In summary, life expectancy is still improving but much more slowly than it did up to 2010. Call that a "stall" if you want, but you will probably just confuse things.

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    It is quite crucial how life expectancy is defined (in the presented chart). Surely someone who is born today has different expected length of life than the median of peoples ages that have died this year. – Communisty Jul 20 '17 at 6:36
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    @Communisty Yes. Life expectancy at birth is a complicated calculation (and you can check the algorithm on official statistics organisations). The median age of death feeds into that calculation but so do many other factors. – matt_black Jul 20 '17 at 8:31
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    @Communisty it is also crucial to mention that humans seem to have a "built-in" maximum age of about 120, so it would be expected that as we approach the limit the rate of improvement would slow down. – Federico Jul 20 '17 at 11:31
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uk LE The graph might be better described as leveling off, reaching a plateau or stabilizing. Looking at the data here, you could say that life expectancy in the last 3 years has stabilized.

Stalling is a loaded word as it makes you imagine you are in an aeroplane and your line on the graph is about to drop out of sky. It also pushes you to believe that you are looking at a bell curve (or a hubbert curve if you are talking about some finite resource that will peak).

But years of life is not a finite resource, we are not going to 'use up' all the hospitals and retirement homes. On the other hand we currently understand there is some age where everyone is dead by, lots of science would have to change to drop the mortality rate to zero, and even to push past the hayflick limit we would probably have to turn into some jellyfish tapeworm robot thing that lives 200 years but isn't really human. The curve should plateau at some point.

  • Interesting; FYI the chart in your screenshot is the men-only chart, if you switch it to "Total" on data.oecd.org/healthstat/life-expectancy-at-birth.htm it's an even more pronounced levelling off, the figure is the same in 2015 as it was in 2011 – user568458 Jul 23 '17 at 21:41
  • @user568458 yep, I was trying to match the chart from the other answer since the creator didn't show any sources. I' was thinking of adding the graph for SA to show there can be local maximums if things get really bad, in contrast to the happier story of a plateau. – daniel Jul 23 '17 at 22:07

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