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First Covid-19 reflections in life expectancy data


On 23 September 2021, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published updated life expectancy data, taking into account mortality figures for 2020[1]. This is therefore the first batch of ONS life expectancy data that reflects the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The datasets published include both ‘single year’ life tables for 2020,[2] and also three-year rolling average data (incorporating years 2018-2020). The latter figures tend to give a better impression of mortality trends over time by flattening out any volatility spikes - for example those seen during the pandemic.

The ONS comment that:

"Life expectancy has increased in the UK over the last 40 years, albeit at a slower pace in the last decade.

“However, the coronavirus pandemic led to a greater number of deaths than normal in 2020. Consequently, in the latest estimates we see virtually no improvement in life expectancy for females compared to 2015 to 2017 at 82.9 years, while for males, life expectancy has fallen back to levels reported for 2012 to 2014, at 79 years. This is the first time we have seen a decline when comparing non-overlapping time periods since the series began in the early 1980s.

“These estimates rely on the assumption that current levels of mortality, which are unusually high, will continue for the rest of someone’s life. Once the coronavirus pandemic has ended and its consequences for future mortality are known, it is possible that life expectancy will return to an improving trend in the future.”[3]

Whilst these figures are of some interest in illustrating overall mortality trends, practitioners should bear in mind that they are not based upon projected mortality figures (i.e. data that takes into account future anticipated trends in life expectancies), which are used to produce the Ogden Tables. It is understood that updated projected life expectancy data is to be published by the ONS in December 2021.

While the update is useful, no action or reaction is required just yet. Even the projected data later this year is unlikely to translate into material savings. However, it may serve to reinforce the trend of plateauing future projected improvements in life expectancy, a trend that had been identified prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the Courts are unlikely to countenance a significant change in approach to calculation of multipliers in the short term, based upon what may prove to be anomalous mortality figures seen during the pandemic.

For more information, please contact James Fisher



[3]Pamela Cobb, Centre for Ageing and Demography, Office for National Statistics - see https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/lifeexpectancies/bulletins/nationallifetablesunitedkingdom/2018to2020 


James Fisher

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