Living longer, but health is worse

Posted on 4 September 2019, 11:00

According to Statistics Estonia, in 2018, life expectancy at birth was 73.9 years for males and 82.4 years for females. Life expectancy has increased for both sexes, slightly more for males. Men are expected to live disability-free for 52.8 and women for 55.6 years. Just a year ago, disability-free life expectancy for males was two years longer and for females over three years longer.

Until now, the life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy of Estonian inhabitants have usually shown a growth trend. Based on the recently released indicators, it can be said that we live longer but not as healthily. Female life expectancy is on average eight and a half years longer than male life expectancy. Just ten years ago, life expectancy for males was four years shorter and for females two years shorter.

Alis Tammur, a leading analyst of the Population and Social Statistics Department of Statistics Estonia, said that life expectancy is likely to increase in the coming years as well. “In the future, we will live to an older age, even men. The fastest increases in life expectancy in 2018 occurred for non-Estonian men, those with higher education and those who live in cities, and for non‑Estonian women.”

According to 2017 data, the highest female life expectancy in Europe was in Spain (86.1) and the lowest in North Macedonia (77.9). Male life expectancy was highest in Switzerland (81.6) and lowest in Ukraine (68.3). Compared to the European Union average, the indicator for males in Estonia is lower by more than four years. Life expectancy for females in Estonia is about a year below the European Union average.

Life expectancy depends on many factors, the most important of these being the environment, accessibility of healthcare services, safety at work, living standard and health consciousness. The shorter male life expectancy is not surprising as men are more prone to risk-taking and have a greater share of physically demanding jobs or those posing more risk to health. Among men, there are also more of those who have unhealthy life styles such as higher alcohol consumption and smoking.

Disability-free life expectancy exhibited a decline trend last year: the indicator reached the level of ten years ago. Looking at different population groups, it appears that the decline is not evident for non-Estonian men and women. Their life expectancy increased the most and healthy life years only slightly. The greatest decrease in disability-free life years was in rural areas and for men and women of Estonian ethnicity.

In general, changes in trend can be considered more trustworthy if they have lasted for several years. In this case, the calculation of the indicator is based on the results of a sample survey, and therefore, a measurement error should be taken into account. At the same time, it does not explain the whole decrease. A change towards a declining health evaluation of people in Estonia is also supported by other data released in 2018. Health self-evaluation has decreased significantly in almost all age groups starting with people in their 20s. Also, the share of people increased who claimed that due to waiting lists they have not received healthcare.

Life expectancy at birth is defined as the mean number of years that a new-born child is expected to live if subjected throughout his life to the current mortality conditions. Disability-free life expectancy is defined as the mean number of years that a person is expected to live without limitations to everyday activities if subjected to current mortality and public health conditions. A component for calculating this indicator is the information collected with a survey on the extent to which a person has been restricted in activities that people normally do due to a health problem during at least the last six months. Only responses where a person said that he or she has not had any health-related limitations are taken into consideration.

For statistical activities “Population” and “Estonian Social Survey”, the main representative of public interest is the Ministry of Social Affairs, commissioned by whom Statistics Estonia collects and analyses the data necessary for conducting these statistical activities.

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