Which Europeans are living the longest - and what do the latest life expectancy figures tell us?

FILE: In this May 14, 2014 file photo an elderly couple sits on a bench in a park in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
FILE: In this May 14, 2014 file photo an elderly couple sits on a bench in a park in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Copyright Martin Meissner/AP
By Sudesh Baniya
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Life expectancy in EU is expected to become a key policy point as the continent struggles with an ageing population.


An average European's life expectancy at birth is 80.1 years according to the 2021 figures – yet it is misleading to apply that across the whole continent. 

The latest statistics released this week by Europe's official database Eurostat show the divide between different regions of continental Europe, with average life expectancy ranging from 69 to 85 years. 

Of the 242 NUTS 2 regions – the EU's system for dividing economic territory – Bulgaria's Severozapazen had an average life expectancy of 69.7 years, whereas the highest was observed in Madrid, Spain at 85.4. 

Rising living standards, improved lifestyle and better education, as well as greater access to quality health services, result in higher figures, and the lower ones signal a lack of those factors. 

Women had a higher life expectancy in all the regions with available figures, and in general, females were expected to live 5.7 years longer than men in Europe.  

On the country scale, Liechtenstein maintained the highest life expectancy in 2021, at 84.4 years. Swiss people's average life expectancy at birth was 83.9 years, followed by the Spaniards' 83.3 years and the Finns' 83.2 years. 

Life expectancy in Europe was rising at a relatively consistent pace until 2019, with a life expectancy of 81.3 years. Subsequent years, however, have seen record declines in numbers, which is often attributed to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

2021's figures are a further decrease from 2020's life expectancy of 80.4 years.

Experts believe the slump will eventually go away, credited to decreasing infant mortality rates and better access to factors that increase living standards. 

That is also reflected in country-wide statistics, as countries with high scores in the Human Development Index make up the top spots. 

What exactly do these figures tell us?

Life expectancy at birth is the average number of years that a newborn child could live, based on several factors including time, region, and pre-existing conditions, according to the World Health Organization.  

The indicator takes into account sex- and age-specific death rates prevailing at the time of birth, for a specific year, in a given country, territory, or geographic area. 

Often hailed as a critical tool to keep track of society's well-being, the indicator is fundamental to developing government policies.

France, for example, is grappling with the challenge of a longer-living population and the resulting strain on the social security system and healthcare system.

To address the challenge, the French government passed a series of reforms earlier this year, aimed at increasing the retirement age and encouraging individuals to work longer. The decision sparked protests all over the country. 

But France is not alone in grappling with an aging population, and French people are not even living the longest. All across Europe, the life expectancy metric has been on an upward trajectory for several decades.

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