Data analysed by Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirm statistically significant increases in the inequality in life expectancy in England between the most and least deprived.

For males at birth in England, a 0.3-year increase in the inequality in life expectancy was observed between 2011 to 2013 and 2014 to 2016, and now approaches a decade of life difference at 9.3 years. This increase in the inequality was largely a result of a very small increase of less than a month among the most deprived males, while the least deprived males gained more than four months of life since 2011 to 2013.

For females, the inequality grew slightly more than for males by 0.4 years; the least-deprived females are now living 7.4 years longer than the most-deprived. The change in the inequality for females arose because of a statistically significant fall in life expectancy of more than two months for the most-deprived, while it grew by more than three months for the least deprived since 2011 to 2013.

In Wales, a similar pattern was observed, although the growth in the inequality was less than in England and not statistically significant.

The latest findings are published in the bulletin Health state life expectancies by national deprivation deciles, England and Wales: 2014 to 2016.

There has been evidence of volatility in the rate of death over recent years, noted in other ONS reports and by Public Health England (PHE). The finding that life expectancy fell among females in the most deprived areas and gains were smallest among males in the most deprived areas, suggests that those living in deprived areas are not sustaining the general reduction in mortality rates observed in the first decade of the 21st Century. Conversely, the most advantaged seem much more resilient to this volatility, with strong gains over this period for both sexes.

Both ONS and PHE are investigating the more recent mortality rate pattern further, to clarify whether a substantive change has occurred since 2011.

Life expectancy at birth is a measure of average life span based on the rate of death occurring at each age of life. The estimates of life expectancy reported in this release are period based and therefore assume the rates of death will apply in future years. Life expectancy has relevance both for the public as well as private sectors. It is used as a demographic tool to assess the size of the population in future years and its structure; by PHE as a health outcome measure to monitor impact of actions designed to improve health, and by the Department for Work and Pensions to guide State Pension age decisions. It also has value to insurance companies for determining health risks to guide pensions provision.

ONS have examined life expectancy changes among residents of England and Wales living in areas exposed to different levels of deprivation, a measure that combines aspects of life such as employment, environment and access to services. Of particularly interest is how these changes are reflected in the scale of inequality that exists between such disadvantaged and advantaged groups of the population. A reduction in health inequality has been a prominent policy objective in both England and Wales over many years; life expectancy and its counterpart summary measure of healthy life expectancy, are useful high-level outcome measures to judge whether inequality is narrowing, widening or remaining entrenched.

Media contacts

Media Relations Office: +44 (0)845 6041858
Emergency on-call: +44 (0)7867 906553
Email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk