Life Expectancy in Scotland

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Estimated life expectancy in Scotland has fallen again. Provisional statistics on life expectancy published by National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed that in 2020-2022 life expectancy was estimated to be:

  • 76.5 years for males
  • 80.7 years for females

This is a decrease by three weeks for males and 5.7 weeks for females since 2019-2021.

This blog explores recent changes in life expectancy in Scotland and how this varies across Scotland.

Life expectancy has been declining in Scotland for the last three years

The graph below shows the changing pattern of life expectancy from 1999. It shows that life expectancy gradually increased for both males and females between 1999-2001 and 2014-2016. However, since 2014-2016, improvements in life expectancy have stalled and has been declining for the last three years.

Life expectancy remains higher for women than men. However, the gap between male and female life expectancy (5.24 years) in 1999-2001 had decreased by around one year (4.21 years) by 2020-2022.

Figure 1: Life expectancy in Scotland since 1999-2001 to 2020-2022 and the change between different years.

Figure 2: The change in year-on-year of life expectancy in Scotland in males and females between 2000-02 and 2020-22.

Deprivation is strongly linked to life expectancy

The patterns of inequality in life expectancy between different places are not a matter of chance or fate, but a reflection of the stuff of life itself”.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation

There is a big difference in life expectancy for those living in the most and least deprived areas of Scotland. We have looked at life expectancy by local authority compared to the local share of the most deprived areas. For example, in Glasgow 45% of data zones in the local authority area are in the 20% most deprived areas in the country. Life expectancy is lower in local authority areas with greater deprivation compared to those with less deprivation. The gap between male and female life expectancy is also greater in areas with greater deprivation.  

Figure 3: Life expectancy by local authority area ranked by deprivation. (Error bars show 95% confidence interval).

When local authorities are grouped together by deprivation level (figure 4) it is clear to see that, for both men and women, life expectancy increases as deprivation decreases.

Figure 4: Life Expectancy by local authority in groups of 8 based on the 2020 SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) ranking. (Bars show standard deviation)

Most deprived local authorities by SIMD
Second most deprived local authorities by SIMD
Second least deprived local authorities by SIMD
Least deprived local authorities by SIMD
Glasgow City
North Ayrshire
West Dunbartonshire Dundee City
North Lanarkshire
East Ayrshire Clackmannanshire
South Lanarkshire Fife
South Ayrshire Falkirk
West Lothian
Argyll and Bute
Aberdeen City
Dumfries and Galloway
Scottish Borders East Lothian
Perth and Kinross
East Renfrewshire
East Dunbartonshire Moray
Na h-Eileanan Siar Orkney Islands Shetland Islands

Health Inequalities 

Health inequalities are also increasing across Scotland with more deprived areas showing less positive health outcomes across a number of measures, compared with the least deprived areas.

The gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) has also increased for males and females living in the most deprived areas of Scotland. In 2019-2021, males living in the most deprived areas were, on average, expected to live 26.0 fewer years in good health than those in the least deprived areas. Females living in the most deprived areas were, on average, expected to live 24.9 fewer years in good health than those in the least deprived areas.[S(1] [BL(2] 

Life expectancy in Scotland remains the lowest in the UK.

Scotland has had the lowest life expectancy of all the UK nations since 1980-82. Life expectancy across areas of the UK have followed a similar trend of increasing from 1980-82 to around 2010-2012 and then levelling off with a slight decrease in recent years.

The Office for National Statistics reported that, at national level, male life expectancy between 2018 and 2020 was highest in England (79.4 years) and lowest in Scotland (76.8 years).  For females, life expectancy was also higher in England (83.1 years) and lowest in Scotland (81.0 years). (The data for the UK, England, Northern Ireland and Wales for 2021-2023 will be published in November 2023).

Figure 5: Life expectancy in Scotland and the rest of the UK from 1980-1982 to 2018-2020 for males and females.

The gap in life expectancy by deprivation level in Scotland is an entrenched issue. In the latest Programme for Government, the Scottish Government highlighted its intention to “use our fixed Budget to reduce poverty, improve opportunities and reduce health inequalities”.

A recent report by the Health Foundation, Leave no one behind: The state of health and health inequalities in Scotland, commented that: “despite undoubted policy ambition, implementation barriers have enabled inequalities to persist. Worse still, they are growing”. It goes on to say:

“No single institution or sector can turn the tide of declining health and widening inequalities on its own. Despite existing policy plans for action across sectors to tackle health inequalities, intent is not reflected in practice. Progress will require central and local government, business, the third sector, local communities and the public to apply a shared and sustained focus on multiple factors that influence health.”

The Health Foundation

Euan Wakefield, SPICe intern and Lizzy Burgess, Health and Social Care Team, SPICe Research

Cover image source: Pixabay