COVID takes at least half a year off a person’s life
The impact of the pandemic on life expectancy in 2020 is comparable to that of World War II for Western European countries and the collapse of the socialist bloc for former socialist countries, experts at Oxford University have concluded.
The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, cites the results of a study conducted in 29 countries (Europe, USA and Chile – Russia was not among the surveyed countries). Life expectancy fell in 27 of them, with 22 showing a decline of more than six months compared to 2019, the experts’ calculations show.
Most countries recorded a greater decline in life expectancy for men than for women. But men suffered the biggest losses in the US and Lithuania (2.2 and 1.7 years respectively). Reductions of more than a year were recorded in 11 countries for men and in eight countries for women. The decrease was mainly due to an increase in mortality over the age of 60 and deaths due to COVID-19.
The decline in life expectancy for Western Europe was the largest since the Second World War, and for Central and Eastern Europe since the break-up of the USSR. For the USA, where data are available from 1933, the peak of the Great Depression, the drop in life expectancy is unprecedented for both men and women.
Prior to the pandemic, life expectancy rose steadily throughout the 20th and 21st centuries in most of the countries studied. The researchers found heterogeneity in the rate of increase in life expectancy, which has become more pronounced since 2010.
In 2019, life expectancy for women ranged from 78.6 years in Bulgaria to 86.5 years in Spain. For men, it ranged from 71.4 years in Lithuania to 82.2 years in Switzerland. In general, life expectancy for women was longer than for men in all countries. For women, increases in life expectancy ranged from about 1 month a year in Greece, France and Scotland to more than 3 months a year in Spain, Hungary and Lithuania. Among men, the lowest increases in life expectancy were in the US, Scotland and Iceland (to ~1 month per year), but life expectancy for men in Lithuania increased by more than 5 months per year.
Life expectancy decreased from 2019 to 2020 in all countries and in both sexes, except for women in Finland, and men and women in Denmark and Norway. In 2020, life expectancy for men decreased more significantly in all the countries examined except Estonia, Slovenia, Spain and Northern Ireland. These declines were offset by the largest gains in life expectancy in the 5 years preceding the pandemic. Of the 29 countries considered, life expectancy for women in 15 countries and for men in 10 countries was worse in 2020 than in 2015, which was exceptionally bad due to a severe influenza epidemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp drop in life expectancy, mainly due to increased mortality in older age groups. Thus, an increase in mortality among women aged 80 years and over and men aged 60-79 years led to a drop in life expectancy. At the same time, in the USA, Lithuania and Bulgaria there are noticeably more deaths among middle-aged men.