Life expectancy stalls in Scotland

Wednesday 14th August 2019

Increases in life expectancy have stalled in Scotland after three decades of improvement.

A new report, published by National Records of Scotland, shows the age people can expect to live to has increased by 7.9 years for men and 5.8 years for women since the early 1980s.  

But that improvement stopped increasing from 2012-2014 – a pattern which has been repeated across the UK – with life expectancy now at 81.1 years for women and 77 years for men.

Factors behind the trend include a rise in drug-related deaths among young people and a reduction in progress on tackling deaths from heart disease.

In July figures revealed there had been a 27% increase in drug-related deaths in Scotland since 2017, with 1,187 recorded last year.

The gap between life expectancy in the most and least deprived areas of Scotland has also widened since 2012-2014.

Women living in the poorest areas can expect to live 9.5 years fewer than those in the richest communities – and the gap for men is even bigger at 13 years.

Scotland still has the lowest life expectancy in the UK, with a gap of 1.8 years for women and 2.2 years for men.

Gerry McCartney of NHS Health Scotland commented: “How long people live is a marker of overall health and so to see that life expectancy across Scotland has stalled and in fact declined in recent years is a real concern. So too is the fact that people in our poorest areas are living shorter lives than those in our more wealthy areas. This is not only unfair, and preventable, but it can also give an indication that this inequality is driving the stall in expectancy."

“The circumstances in which we live should not impact on health so much that the right to live a long and healthy life is compromised by how much money we have. Undoing the causes of poverty is essential if we are to address this decline, improve Scotland’s health and ensure people live in good health, for longer."

Paul Lowe, the Registrar General for Scotland, said: “Life expectancy in Scotland has been increasing over the long term, but recent estimates indicate that it has stopped improving.

“The largest causes of the stall in life expectancy are the slowing of improvements seen in the reduction of deaths from heart disease and increases in drug related deaths.”

The report also found Scotland’s population is now standing at a record high of 5.44 million, with migration the main driver of the increase.

Scotland’s fertility rate is the lowest in the UK and falling at a faster rate than all other UK countries.

Mr Lowe added: “For the eighteenth consecutive year, Scotland’s population has increased and now stands at a record high of 5.44 million.

“Migration continues to be the main driver of Scotland’s population growth, with more people coming to Scotland than leaving.

“However, we have seen our population growth slowing over the past two years. This is due to the combined effect of a fall in net migration, fewer births and more deaths.”

Mr McCartney added: “We are working hard as a public health community to better understand the trends and their underlying causes. The evidence we have indicates that countries that have reduced funding for public services and social security payments have seen the trends in life expectancy worsen most. It is therefore important that we protect the incomes of the poorest people in society and funding for public services if we are to reverse these trends.”