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Life expectancy at birth in the UK stands at 79 years for men and at just under 82.9 years for women. This according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the three-year period from 2018 to 2020.
Life expectancy in the UK is well above the international average. Figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for 2019 show that the global average lifespan from birth is 69.8 years for men and 74.2 years for women
As you get older, however, you can expect to live considerably longer than these averages suggest. The ONS points out that the typical 65-year-old man in the UK will live for 18.5 more years, until well past their 83rd birthday.
Women who reach their 65th birthday can on average expect to live a further 21 years until they turn 86, ONS data indicates.
Life expectancy is one of the most important factors when it comes to how insures work out the price of life insurance. So, the more you can do to increase your lifespan, the greater the chances of lowering your costs.
As a long-term trend, life expectancy has been steadily increasing in the UK for more than 150 years. In the middle of the 19th century, life expectancy for both men and women was little more than 40 years.
According to the ONS, women’s life expectancy from birth in England and Wales in 1901 was 52.4 years while men’s was 48.5 years. These figures had risen to 71.5 years and 66.4 years respectively by 1951.
Increases have continued since then and have been attributed to a wide range of factors. These include:
- Advances in medical treatments
- The eradication of diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis
- The adoption of healthier lifestyles with more exercise.
A better understanding of the importance of nutrition and the risks associated with drinking alcohol and smoking has also helped to extend average lifetimes.
Increases in life expectancy in the UK have slowed to some extent in the past few years, while the pandemic led to higher mortality rates in 2020.
This meant that male life expectancy actually fell between 2018 and 2020, while women’s life expectancy stayed at the same level as in the previous three-year period.
The life expectancy figures published by bodies such as the ONS and the WHO normally set out how long the average newborn is expected to live. This figure is typically described as ‘life expectancy from birth’.
When the ONS provides life expectancy figures, it’s setting out:
‘The average number of additional years a person can be expected to live for if they experience the age-specific mortality rates of the given area and time period for the rest of their life’.
This means that the ONS looks at current death rates in the population as well as the ages at which people die to calculate an expectancy figure for men and women.
You often also see life expectancy figures for people who’ve reached a certain age. These are inevitably higher than ‘life expectancy at birth’ figures – purely because they don’t include people who’ve died at a younger age.
It’s useful to know your life expectancy at a later stage of life if you’re planning your retirement finances, for example. Let’s say women who turn 65 in the UK expect to live another 21 years, on average. It makes sense, then, to plan to have sufficient pension income to cover this period at least.
Population-wide life expectancy figures such as those published by the ONS are useful, but they don’t address individual differences. Your own life expectancy is of course be linked to general mortality rates in the country you live in. For example, you’re likely to live longer if you’re in the UK rather than a poorer, developing country with a lower standard of healthcare.
But this is only part of the picture. Several other factors ranging from your lifestyle to your family medical history play an important role in dictating your life expectancy. We set out some of the most crucial factors:
- Your age. As you get older, the number of years you can expect to live from now inevitably decline.
- Your birth sex. Generally, women tend to live longer than men – in the UK as well as in most of the world.
- Your health. If you’ve suffered health problems previously, there’s a possibility these issues could re-emerge or persist.
- Your weight could also be a factor. Obesity can lead to health problems later in life.
- Family medical issues. If there’s a history of problems such as hereditary heart disease on one side of your family, this could also lead to lower life expectancy.
- Your marital status. Studies suggest that married couples tend to have longer life expectancy than single people. Research has shown that marriage increases the tendency to eat more healthily, for example, and benefit from emotional support. But the benefits of being married appear to be greater for those in ‘happy’ relationships.
- Lifestyle factors. Eating healthily, using substances such as nicotine and alcohol in moderation – or not at all – and exercise all impact your life expectancy.
Looking at the factors that influence life expectancy, it’s clear that some of them simply can’t be changed – for example your age.
Nor can you alter the fact that there’s a history of certain illnesses in your family. But there are steps you can take to address issues such as this.
If one side of your family seems to be susceptible to heart disease, you could adopt lifestyle changes to address this. For example, you could cut down on fatty foods and do suitable forms of exercise.
Similarly, if you’re not married you could try to cultivate a social circle to provide you with more emotional support. Making changes to your lifestyle in order to improve your life expectancy can be more straightforward. As well as eating more healthily, you could look to stop smoking or cut down the amount of alcohol you drink.
The factors that dictate life expectancy are used by insurance companies when they set life insurance premiums.
The most common type of life insurance is level term life insurance. This runs for a fixed period and is normally designed to help cover major expenses such as a mortgage and childcare costs.
To set the price of this kind of policy, the insurer needs to know what the chances are of the policyholder dying during the period the cover is in place. To work this out, they consider the same factors applied in calculating life expectancy.
Life insurance providers are likely to ask you to provide a range of information such as:
- Your age
- Your marital status
- Details about out your lifestyle
- Your current and past health
- Any family history of illness.
The more that these factors point to a lower life expectancy, the more you can expect to pay in life insurance costs. For example, someone in their forties who smokes heavily might expect to pay more than a non-smoker in their thirties – other things being equal.
The amount of cover you need plays a big role, as does the length of time you want the cover to be in place for. You also need to decide whether you want the same level of cover to remain in place for the duration of the policy. An option known as decreasing term insurance sees the amount of insurance fall every year. This reflects the fact that the size of your mortgage is likely to be falling.
Choosing decreasing term insurance rather than level term insurance could help reduce your premiums.