How long have you got?

In its End of the Decade review this January the Times published the alarming news that life expectancy in the UK had started to fall in the last decades. What their graph actually showed was that the rate of increase had started to fall, which isn’t quite the same thing, but this set me thinking.

Fortunately, it’s a relatively easy thing to find out – no trawling through entrails or treks to Delphi – just Google it. So here goes …

According to the ONS my average life expectancy is 87 years, with a 1 in 4 chance of reaching 94.

Obviously, this isn’t a personal prediction – it’s a prediction for people like me i.e. people of the same age and gender living in the UK. It is, however, possible to drill down in greater detail and this is where it gets both interesting and disturbing.

It turns out that one of the most significant indicators of life expectancy is your postcode.

One of Oxford’s less palatable facts is that there is a 15 year gap in male life expectancy between its poorest ward (75 years) and its richest (90 years). This in a city the size of Burnley.

My average life expectancy, based on the ward where I live, is 89, of which 79 can be expected to be healthy.

The same figure for the ward where I was born is 77, of which 69½ could be expected to be healthy. In other words, I’ve probably gained 10-12 years of both health and life by moving to a different area.

For children born today in the same ward, life expectancy is 77 for females and 73 for males – in both cases healthy life expectancy is predicted to drop to just 51 years at a time when the state pension age will have risen to at least 68.

Whilst there is clearly a long term national trend which may be explained by a number of factors, the fact remains that the key determinant of how long you live, how long you remain healthy and when you die isn’t to do with your genes or how many hospitals the government builds (you can’t move for hospitals in Oxford) – it’s your personal wealth. Not just your economic wealth (although that’s important – you need money to feed yourself and have access to decent housing), but social wealth in the form of education, decent working conditions, safe communities and access to leisure.

In all the current discussions about addressing inequality, surely this unequal access to life must take centre stage, because if we don’t tackle that, we won’t really succeed in tackling anything.


Life expectancy calculator (ONS)

Life expectancy calculator by census ward (ONS)