Based on a new study of life expectancy, Imperial College London researchers say people will live longer than current official estimates predict. Though that may seem like OK news to most of us, bureaucrats may be scratching their heads and preparing documents for the shredder. After all, the new forecast suggests social services and pensions based on official under-estimates simply won’t meet future needs.

“Our methods better reflect how longevity is changing than those currently used, and our forecasts are more accurate,” Dr. Majid Ezzati, professor at the School of Public Health and lead author of the study, stated in a press release. Since he gives 2.4 extra years to men and 1.0 extra year to women, Medical Daily's siding with him on this one.

If you were born into what used to be called an average family, you most likely have been encouraged by family, friends, and random public service announcements to plan for your future. (Welcome to the middle class.) When you’re young, this means obtaining whatever education is needed for one or another decently-paid line of work. When you’re older, this means saving for the years you will no longer be able to work. This second scheme turns slightly mind-boggling when you consider the mysteries contained within its core: How much money will you need if you have no idea how or when you’ll die?

Meanwhile, your government also is running the numbers on your potential lifespan in order to provide promised services (in the form of health care and pensions) to you in your old age. Naturally, it would be best for all concerned (you) if these computations are based on accurate assumptions. By challenging even one valuation in the equation — life expectancy — the current study calls into question one government’s ability to provide for its senior citizens. In all likelihood, other governments around the world may be making similar mistakes.

To assess the number of years people will live, Ezzati and his co-researchers developed statistical models for 375 separate districts in England and 376 separate districts in Wales. The research group used death records from 1981 through 2012, as well as data on age, sex, and postcode, to forecast life expectancy at birth. Focusing on local, small-areas, their models accommodated some under-used factors related to birth cohort, time, and space.

Across England and Wales, by these new estimates, life expectancy will increase from 79.5 years in 2012 to 85.7 in 2030 for men, and from 83.3 years in 2012 to 87.6 in 2030 for women. Based on the researchers' calculations, then, the longevity gap between men and women which has been closing for nearly half a century will continue to get narrower.

Gaps and Shortfalls

People in the longest-living areas for 2012 (southern England and well-off parts of London) are expected to live seven or eight years longer than people in the shortest-living areas (urban northern England, including the cities of Blackpool, Liverpool, and Manchester, and South Wales). By 2030, that gap is projected to grow to more than eight years. Within individual cities, significant gaps exist between districts as well, the researchers say. In London, for example, residents of some neighborhoods have five to six added years of life expectancy compared to those living in other neighborhoods.

Overall, the forecasts for 2030 are higher by 2.4 years for men and 1.0 year for women than the estimates made by the Office of National Statistics. Though these numbers may seem paltry, they will mean “pensions will have larger payouts, and health and social services will have to serve an older population than currently planned,” Ezzati noted. In other words, there could be financial shortfalls ahead if Ezzati is indeed right. When the common wealth is divvied up, who will win and who will lose?

Source: Bennett JE, Li G, Foreman K, et al. The future of life expectancy and life expectancy inequalities in England and Wales: Bayesian spatial forecasting of population health. Lancet. 2015.