The number of elderly people in the UK will increase in the coming years as new statistics show life expectancy is rising and is consistently under-estimated. A man aged 65 years in the UK can now expect to live, on average, to 85.6 and a woman of the same age to 87.8, new figures reveal. A boy born today could expect to live to 89.5, whilst a girl could expect to live to 92.1, placing even greater demand on an already overstretched healthcare service.
Improved working conditions, reduced smoking rates and improved healthcare have all contributed to increasing life expectancy from generation to generation.
While we are now living longer than ever, in recent years these improvements in life expectancy in the UK have slowed down.
In the first half of the 20th century life expectancy had improved rapidly, largely driven by reducing infant mortality rates and deaths from infectious diseases. Towards the end of the 20th Century there was also a steep decline in mortality rates at the oldest ages.
Infant and child mortality rates are now at such low levels that it’s unlikely that further reductions will affect future life expectancy. Additionally, it is possible that other factors like medical advances, which have historically driven life expectancy improvements, may also stop having so much of an effect.
There is a debate as to whether the recent slowing down in life expectancy improvements is the start of a new trend, or whether it is just a blip in a trend of continuous improvement.
It is possible that obesity levels continue to rise and new diseases emerge, which could reduce future improvements in mortality. Anti-microbial resistance could increase and this may also play a part in slowing down life expectancy improvements.
Conversely, it is also possible that there will be lower incidences of cancer, heart disease and strokes through behavioural and lifestyle changes as well as new technology. Biomedical advancements in the future may also allow for better treatment of these common diseases, reducing their mortality rates.