Life expectancy gap between rich and poor is widening

At age 65, men in the highest socio-economic group in England and Wales are living longer than those in the lowest socio-economic group by up to 3.5 years, increasing from a gap of 2.3 years 20 years earlier, according to a Longevity Science Advisory Panel research paper “Life Expectancy; past and future variations by socio-economic group in England & Wales”.

20 years ago, a man born into a higher socio-economic group would be expected to live on average 75.6 years, 4.9 years more than a person in the lower category. Today, a man born into a higher socio-economic group is expected to live 80.4 years, 5.8 years longer than a man in the lower socio-economic group. 

Income inequality has increased since the 1980s. For example, the average household income of the wealthiest tenth of the population in England and Wales was 3 times that of the poorest tenth, in the 1960s and 1970s. This ratio then climbed from 3 to 4 times in the 1980s and has stayed around 4 since 1990s. 

Differences in lifestyle

Differences in lifestyle such as smoking and obesity, between the socio-economic groups, are still disadvantaging those in lower socio-economic groups. For example, in 2009, 16% of non-manual workers smoked compared with 26% of manual workers and the level of smoking was much higher in manual groups, who on average smoke 15 cigarettes per day compared with the average of 10 cigarettes smoked by those in the higher professional group

Smoking: Smoking is still one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK. An estimated 114,000 people die every year from smoking related illnesses and smokers have an increased risk of developing over 50 serious health conditions.

Alcohol: A 2011 NHS study concluded that in 2009 there were over 6500 deaths in England directly attributed to alcohol.  The mortality rates are higher for those in lower socio-economic groups. For example, men aged 30-44 in routine occupations were roughly 7 times more likely to die from alcohol related causes than men in the same age group but in higher managerial and professional occupations.

Obesity: In 2009, 60% of the adult population in England were classified as being overweight or obese 38% had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25-<30 and 25% were obese with BMI 30 and above. Obesity can result in serious chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. For example, an obese women is nearly 13 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than a woman who is not obese. People classified as severely obese (BMI 40 to 50) can expect their life expectancy to be shortened by 10 years. In 2004, obesity among men in the professional socio-economic group was 18% compared with 28% for those in the unskilled manual class.

 Sir Derek Wanless, chair of the Longevity Science Advisory Panel commenting on the findings, said: “Our research has shown that there are some powerful factors that have influenced and are likely to continue to influence life expectancy in different socio-economic groups. The gap between the socio-economic groups will continue to increase further rather than reduce if the ‘rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer’ unless action to change the lifestyle factors is more successful.

The Longevity Science Advisory Panel, LSAP, was set up by Legal & General to explore the impact that a range of factors may have on future life expectancy in the UK. This includes the drivers that are enhancing life expectancy, for example, medical advances and social change, as well as the inhibitors, such as aspects of lifestyle and delays in the development of treatments. A copy of the Report, Life Expectancy; Past and future variations by socio-economic groups in England and Wales, is available to download at






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