Alarm over sudden drop in female life expectancy

Alarm over sudden drop in female life expectancy

Life expectancy for women has suffered a drop on a scale not seen for decades, as their lifestyles become more like those of men, official figures show.

In 2012 there were falls in average life expectancy for females in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, new figures show. A drop in all such age groups had not been seen since 1995. It means the average woman aged 75 can expect to live 13.1 years; five weeks less than in 2011. For a woman aged 85, average life expectancy is now 6.8 years - a fall of two and a half months, in two years.

Experts said the trend could be the result of changes in the lifestyles of the “baby boomer” generation, with older women more likely to drink regularly, and to have smoked, than previous generations.

Charities also raised concern that older people are having their lives cut short by reductions in social care spending and poor standards in care homes. Meanwhile, increases among men in their 60s and 70s stalled, the statistics show, while life expectancy reduced among older men.

The deteriorating picture disclosed in a report by health officials follows three decades which have seen annual average life expectancy increases of 1.2 per cent for men and 0.7 per cent for women.

Prof John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said the fall in women’s life expectancy might reflect changes in the lifestyles of the baby boomer generation, which were taking their toll decades later.

“One of the issues we have seen is women living lifestyle’s becoming more like those of men over recent decades, with more smoking and drinking,” he said.

He said he was also concerned that the falls could reflect cutbacks in social care, which he said had been “hammered” in recent years.

“I think there has been a failure of successive governments here, in that we should have seen that trends were changing, that more people would be living longer and we needed to put services in place to look after them,” Prof Ashton said.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “This decrease in life expectancy, after many years of improvement, is like 'the canary in the coal mine': it is telling us that something has changed for the worse, so that fewer people are thriving in later life than they could or should.”

“The most obvious likely culprit is the rapid decline of state-funded social care in recent years, which is leaving hundreds of thousands of older people to struggle on alone at home without any help.”

She called on the next Government to take urgent action to support the elderly, and avoid the downturn becoming the start of a “terrible trend."

The Public Health England report, Recent Trends in Life Expectancy at Older Ages, shows that in 2012, female life expectancy suddenly fell for all age bands over the age of 65, with drops for women aged 65, 75, 85 and 95.

The decline in life expectancy for women in their 60s was the first decline seen since 1995 while the drop among those in their 70s had not been seen for nine years.

While the figures for women in their 60s have since recovered to their 2011 levels, the statistics for women in their 70s, 80s and 90s remain worse, the figures show.

Meanwhile, after years of continued improvements in life expectancy for men, progress stalled - and in some age groups, declined.

Among men aged 65 and 75, life expectancy has remained static for two years, while for men of 85 and 95 it has fallen, the report shows.

Health officials said they would need a third year’s data to establish whether the figures from 2012 and 2013 mean life expectancy is levelling off or entering a more worrying decline.

The report suggests the impact of the economic recession could be one reason why similar trends occurred in several European countries.

The changes in 2011 and 2012 follow continued improvements in life expectancy in recent decades.

Overall, a 65 year old man in the UK can now expect to live 18.5 years – almost five and a half more years than three decades ago. A woman of the same age can expect 21 more years – a gain of almost four years in the last 30 years.

Men of 75 can now expect to live 11.3 years, with 13.1 years for women, while at 85, men can expect 5.8 more years, and women 6.8 more years.

The changes means average life expectancy for a women of 85 is now two and a half months shorter than in 2011, while a man of the same age could expect to live five weeks less.

The statistics follow NHS figures which show that show alcohol-related hospital admissions among men and women in their 60s have tripled in a decade.

Latest figures show lung cancer has overtaken breast cancer as the most deadly form of the disease among women, with 16,000 deaths from lung cancer each year compared with 12,000 from breast cancer.

The rise in lung cancer is attributed to the rise in young women taking up smoking the late 1960s and 1970s.

By Laura Donnelly, 

The Telegraph, Monday 6th April