Do Mancunian men live longer than Moroccans?
How long will I live? How many years of healthy life can I expect?
As the relentless trickle of time pushed me to the precipice of my 30th birthday I started considering these questions quite heavily. There’s surely nothing so valuable as time, and seeing the inequalities in wealth that are prevalent and very much in the public consciousness, I began to wonder if these same inequalities are as stark when it comes to life expectancy.
Differences in life expectancy between countries
It’s common knowledge (to me at least!) that there are huge differences in life expectancy between countries, and Hans Rosling’s fantastic TED Talk showed a correlation between GDP and life expectancy, which you can explore using his Gapminder tool. It’s not a huge effort to imagine that countries with a higher GDP per capita may also have improved access to healthcare, a more secure food supply or public health initiatives which focus on at-risk demographics, thus increasing average life expectancy.
It’s also important to note that whilst increased GDP per capita can indicate that the citizens of a country as a whole have grown richer, this is not necessarily the case; increases in income inequality have resulted in much of this increase going to the ‘1%’. This article by the Guardian shows the global distribution of wealth from a report published in 2015, while this article published by the OECD shows how a measure of income inequality increased from 1985 – 2008 for 17 out of 22 countries measured. I digress.
The pursuit of wealth has been an all-consuming pastime during the 20th century; a fair few have prospered, but often at the expense of many (looking at you George Soros, you deeply unpleasant person). Is it a general belief that having more personal wealth leads to a higher life expectancy? Does this drive the pursuit of wealth?
Differences in life expectancy within England and Wales
Surely in the more advanced economies, especially those with generous welfare systems and subsidised healthcare, the regional differences in life expectancy will not be as stark as the differences present between countries. Surely?
The chart below shows the life expectancy by region for UK males:
(PS if this chart isn’t working properly, try clicking and dragging somewhere on the bits of chart; I’ve been having trouble with the Plotly WordPress plugin recently)
Let’s take the good news. If, by some miracle, you’re four years old and just love being reminded of your own mortality, then congratulations! You’ll live about five years longer than your mate Jezza, born in 1991. This is true no matter where in the UK you’re from. Why aye!
On the other hand, you can see that there are are considerable regional differences in life expectancy, differences that have been entrenched since 1991 (and very probably beforehand). Residents of the South West, the South East and the East of England can expect to live about 2.5 years (on average) more than their fellow citizens in the North East and the North West.
The Economist suggests that the Norman Conquest (that one, in 1066) and the subsequent Harrying of the North may have contributed to the economic North-South divide that we see today. Can this economic disparity be linked to the disparity in life expectancy we can see above? I reckon so. That the actions of Will.i.am the Conqueror 950 years ago have trickled through time and resulted in Bob from Sunderland enjoying six years less retirement than George from Dorset is a bloody outrage (obviously there’s a little more going on here).
Is it a man thing?
Maybe it’s the type of jobs men do in the North that contribute to their rubbish life expectancy? Factory work, mining and shipbuilding can be perilous jobs, and were traditionally male dominated . . .
(PS if this chart isn’t working properly, try clicking and dragging somewhere on the bits of chart that do show; I’ve been having trouble with the Plotly WordPress plugin recently)
Nope. Those fancy Southron ladies seem to have it much better than their stoic northern counterparts (in terms of life expectancy anyway; the tea down south is herbal and generally shit).
I’m not claiming that income inequality between the North and South is solely responsible for these discrepancies; there are likely many cultural and demographic factors which also influence life expectancy. For example I doubt many studies have controlled for chicken parmo consumption per capita. I do however hope to highlight that these changes exist, and to contribute to their discussion.
What about my town?
That these regional differences exist and have done so for many years does not tell the whole story. In fact, the differences within regions can be more stark than those between regions. For example, Dorothy, who runs a tea room in Hambleton (in Yorkshire and the Humber) will live about 85.5 years. But if you drive for two hours down to Hull, you’ll see Maureen, great-grandmother of 18, pop her clogs five years earlier.
There is a very strong city effect. In the map below, you’ll find that most of the darker spots (indicating a lower life expectancy) are clustered in and around cities. As a Yorkshireman living in Bristol, that’s a little disconcerting.
You can use the map below to explore these differences within regions. Find your hometown, then figure out where you should move to . . .