A rising life expectancy has been changing the nature of retirement, but with rising retirement ages, we often overlook the importance of healthy life expectancy.
Healthy life expectancy refers to the proportion of life spent in “good” health. According to the latest official figures, there were only small increases in life expectancy at birth, for both men and women in the UK, between 2013 to 2015 and 2016 to 2018.
Life expectancy at birth improved by 0.2% for boys and 0.1% for girls during this time. It’s worth noting that the size of these life expectancy increases was substantially smaller than those observed during the first decade of the 21st century.
Only in England and Northern Ireland did we experience any significant improvements to life expectancy at birth between 2013 to 2015 and 2016 to 2018. The four most southerly regions of England experienced the highest life expectancy at birth improvements, with the most significant gain seen in London.
But turning back to healthy life expectancy; overall in the UK, including Scotland, these improvements were smaller than life expectancy during the period, which means the years lived in poorer health increased by more than the years lived in good health.
Healthy life expectancy at age 65 has improved at a faster rate than life expectancy in England and Wales. The highest male healthy life expectancy at birth was found in Richmond-upon-Thames, at 71.9 years. In stark contrast, the lowest was in Blackpool, at only 53.3 years.
For females at birth, the lowest healthy life expectancy at birth was found in Nottingham, at 54.2 years on average. The highest was in Wokingham, at 72.2 years.
Across the UK, the gap between the highest and lowest healthy life expectancy at birth was 19.1 years. Women who celebrated their 65th birthdays from 2016 to 2018 could expect to live
longer with a disability than men, in part due to their longer life expectancy.
According to the Office for National Statistics:
“The size of the life expectancy gain between 2013 and 2018 is small by historical standards, but in line with the observed pattern of stalling improvements since 2011. A decade earlier, life expectancy was growing 6.5 times faster for males and 8.2 times faster for females.
“People in England and males in Northern Ireland saw their life expectancy improve, but there were no significant changes in Wales and Scotland. The size of London’s gain continued to be notably larger than any other region.
“Meanwhile, there were reductions in the number of years lived in poorer states of health for both men and women at age 65 in Wales and England and for men in Northern Ireland.”
Thinking about healthy life expectancy is essential because retirement is about more than simply money. Understanding how much time in retirement you are likely to spend in good health, and when you might need long-term care is an essential part of retirement planning.
As life expectancy continues to rise, healthy life expectancy appears to be failing to keep pace with these increases and could mean more people are spending life in retirement in poor health.