COVID-19 and changes in life expectancy

Mortality statistics have a direct bearing on life expectancy (at birth). Higher morality leads to lower life expectancy and vice versa. COVID-19 represented a major mortality shock over the last 70 years, but its impact was uneven across the world.

The United States experienced the third highest loss in life expectancy because of COVID-19 in a sample of 29 high income countries. Only Bulgaria and Slovakia had worse outcomes. It is also worth noting that: ‘in the United States, the pandemic has accentuated the pre-existing mid-life mortality crisis’. (Scholey, 2022).

The countries that do well are in Northwest Europe, especially the Nordic countries.

Paul Krugman suggests that the decline in life expectancy in the United States is regionally concentrated with ‘red states’, where political conservatism holds sway, suffering disproportionately from COVID 19 deaths.  

There is a statistically significant negative association between the magnitude of the decline in life expectancy and vaccination uptakes – high declines are associated lower vaccination incidence.

Figure 1: COVID-19 and life expectancy in a sample of high income countries

Source: Scholey et al, 2022.

What about India – one of the worst affected countries in terms of the absolute number of deaths from COVID-19?

Here is a chart which looks at both life expectancy at birth for men and women (eO) and inequality in life expectancy as measured by the Gini coefficient (gO) over the 2010-2020 period in India. There is a sharp decline in life expectancy among both men and women between 2019 and 2020, with levels equivalent to what prevailed in 2010 for women and 2014 for men. In terms of years lost, ‘…the mortality pattern of COVID-19 reveals a drop of 2.0 and 2.3 years for men and women, respectively, between the pandemic year 2020 and the non-pandemic year 2019’. (Yadav et al, 2021).

Inequality in life expectancy – which was falling consistently between 2010 and 2019 rose sharply after that. In sum:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has negative repercussions on life expectancy and inequality in age at death and has slowed the mortality transition in India.”(Yadav et al, 2021)

Figure 2: COVID-19 and life expectancy in India

Source: Yadav et al (2021),