LONDON: The Covid-19 pandemic led to
biggest decrease in life expectancy since the World War II, and wiped out years
of progress on mortality, according to a study published on Monday by the
University of Oxford.
The research team assembled an unprecedented dataset on mortality from 29
countries, spanning most of Europe, the US and Chile — countries for which
official death registrations for 2020 had been published.
The study, published in the
International Journal of Epidemiology, found that 27 of the 29 countries saw
reductions in life expectancy in 2020, and at a scale which wiped out years of
progress on mortality.
Women in 15 countries and men in
10 countries were found to have a lower expectancy at birth in 2020 than in
2015, a year in which life expectancy was already negatively affected by a
significant flu season.
“For Western European countries such as Spain, England and Wales, Italy,
Belgium, among others, the last time such large magnitudes of declines in life
expectancy at birth were observed in a single year was during WW-II,” said
study’s co-lead author Jose Manuel Aburto, from Oxford’s Leverhulme Center for
Demographic Science (LCDS).
“However, the scale of the life expectancy losses was stark across most
countries studied, with 22 countries included in the study experiencing larger
losses than half a year in 2020,” Aburto said.
The researchers noted that females in eight countries and males in 11 countries
experienced losses larger than a year.
It took on average 5.6 years for these countries to achieve a one-year increase
in life expectancy recently, while the progress was wiped out over the course
of 2020 by Covid-19, they said.
Life expectancy, also known as period life expectancy, refers to the average
age to which a newborn lives if current death rates continued for their whole
life. It does not predict an actual lifespan.
Across most of the 29 countries, males saw larger life expectancy declines than
females, according to the researchers.
The largest declines in life expectancy were observed among males in the US,
who saw a decline of 2.2 years relative to 2019 levels, followed by Lithuanian
males (1.7 years), they said.
“The large declines in life expectancy observed in the US can partly be
explained by the notable increase in mortality at working ages observed in
2020,” said study co-lead author, Ridhi Kashyap from LCDS.
“In the US, increases in
mortality in the under 60 age group contributed most significantly to life
expectancy declines, whereas across most of Europe increases in mortality above
age 60 contributed more significantly,” Kashyap said.
The team’s analysis also shows
that most life expectancy reductions across different countries were
attributable to official Covid-19 deaths.
“While we know that there
are several issues linked to the counting of Covid-19 deaths, such as
inadequate testing or misclassification, the fact that our results highlight
such a large impact that is directly attributable to Covid-19 shows how
devastating a shock it has been for many countries,” Kashyap said.
“We urgently call for the publication and availability of more
disaggregated data from a wider-range of countries, including low- and
middle-income countries, to better understand the impacts of the pandemic
globally,” she added.