The demographic story we usually hear is one of people living longer and longer and more people than ever blowing out 100 birthday candles.  However, a new study in the United Kingdom has found that this may not actually be forever the case. 

For obvious reasons, life insurance companies and pension schemes keep an eye on mortality rates (being the amount of people who die in a given year).  They affect many long term predictions about how much will have to be paid or expended by various groups.

Defying expectation, death rates rose by 1.3% among over 65-year-olds in the United Kingdom in 2012 and have done so again so far in 2013. The analysis was carried out by actuaries Punter Southall and based on data from the Office for National Statistics covering England and Wales.  In particular, there was a 2.6% increase in death rates among women over 65 – the first time death rates have increased for this particular group of women in more than 10 years.

In fact, the “Continuous Mortality Investigation” has been showing falls in life expectancy in the UK for four years running now, causing Catherine Love Soper of Punter Southall to comment:

While we would expect crude death rates to be very volatile year on year, due to cold winters and random variations, the last few years’ data have had an interesting impact on the Actuarial Profession’s Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI) longevity projection models, which are updated and released annually. 

Life expectancies from the last four consecutive CMI models have been falling and in fact the latest projection model (the CMI_2013 model) gives life expectancies that are 1.6% lower than the CMI_2010 model, for a current 65-year old, and 3.4% lower for a current 80-year old.


The Economist’s Mark Cobley goes so far as to say that these figures might be rising “a morbid half-smile” from financial directors with generous pension schemes.

The experts who analyse these figures are careful to say that hard and fast conclusions cannot be drawn from only a few years of data.  However, even if that is the case, it is yet another illustration that common popular notions must always be tested – and that the many assumptions made to foster such notions in the media and elsewhere can quickly change.  Already we have seen the many doomsday predictions of an out of control population tempered by concerningly low fertility rates.  In the past few days we have seen scientists concede that some assumptions about global warming appear to have been wrong and the planet is not actually warming at the rate predicted.  

In any case, if these increasing mortality rates do reflect a trend should we be concerned?  I guess it depends upon the cause.  While we should always be working to improve the dignity and quality of life, the fostering of joyful, purpose-filled lives is probably more important than humans living to older and older ages.  

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...