UK life expectancy has stopped improving and young people are now less likely to live longer than their parents.
What it means: If a statistician knew nothing about you but your age and gender, your life expectancy is the age they’d guess you’ll die at. (Yep, we’re starting nice and cheerful today). The average British boy born in 2015 will live to 79 years and two-and-a-half months. A girl born at the same time should do a bit better and kick the bucket just a month shy of her 83rd birthday.
Brits already don’t live as long as people from other rich countries. Now we’ve made ONS (the Office for National Statistics, which does all the UK’s number-crunching) history by not improving our average life expectancy, which has been going up and up since ONS records began in the early 1980s. The Scots and the Welsh (and Northern Irish men) actually wound up with a lower life expectancy than they had a few years ago.
Obviously this is sad, but what has it got to do with the economy? Well. For a start, some people are blaming it on austerity, or the UK government’s sharp cuts to public spending since 2010. (The Financial Times says there’s no evidence for this, and the life expectancy freeze was probably caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices).
That raises questions about what we should value as a society, because austerity was introduced in the belief it would reduce our debts and grow our economy. (This didn’t happen, which lots of people blame on the Brexit vote). Economic growth, which means a country is producing increasingly more - or more valuable - things, is often held up as the holy grail of progress by economists and politicians.
But to see its limitations, consider that a way to improve our economic growth would be to decrease everyone's life expectancy even further. After all, OAPs are really unproductive - they usually don’t work or work less effectively than younger adults. They also take up a lot of resources and taxpayer money through pensions and increased use of our healthcare services.
But most of us wouldn’t bump off our grannies for higher economic growth, suggesting other things are more important to our idea of ‘doing well’.
…So where next? Not only do economic ideas shape the institutions and communities we live in, they also influence our own ideas of personal success – be it earning well, achieving a ‘Dr.’ or ‘CEO’ at the front of our label, or living a sustainable life. But what with the speed at which technology is transforming our economies, we can barely predict what ‘s in store for our economies and where we’ll fit in…