Quantifying impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through life-expectancy losses: a population-level study of 29 countries



Life expectancy at birth (age 0, left panel) and at age 60 years (right panel) by country and sex, in 2015, 2019 and 2020. Estimates for females (red), males (blue), 2015 (|), 2019 (+), 2020 (○). Countries are sorted from highest to lowest levels of female life expectancy at birth in 2019. *Estimates for Chile, Greece and Germany were available from 2016. All data points are provided in a table in Supplementary File 2, available as Supplementary data at IJE online. An interactive version of this visualization is available at https://covid19.demographicscience.ox.ac.uk/lifeexpectancy.



Variations in the age patterns and magnitudes of excess deaths, as well as differences in population sizes and age structures, make cross-national comparisons of the cumulative mortality impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic challenging. Life expectancy is a widely used indicator that provides a clear and cross-nationally comparable picture of the population-level impacts of the pandemic on mortality.Methods

Life tables by sex were calculated for 29 countries, including most European countries, Chile and the USA, for 2015–2020. Life expectancy at birth and at age 60 years for 2020 were contextualized against recent trends between 2015 and 2019. Using decomposition techniques, we examined which specific age groups contributed to reductions in life expectancy in 2020 and to what extent reductions were attributable to official COVID-19 deaths.Results

Life expectancy at birth declined from 2019 to 2020 in 27 out of 29 countries. Males in the USA and Lithuania experienced the largest losses in life expectancy at birth during 2020 (2.2 and 1.7 years, respectively), but reductions of more than an entire year were documented in 11 countries for males and 8 among females. Reductions were mostly attributable to increased mortality above age 60 years and to official COVID-19 deaths.Conclusions

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered significant mortality increases in 2020 of a magnitude not witnessed since World War II in Western Europe or the breakup of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe. Females from 15 countries and males from 10 ended up with lower life expectancy at birth in 2020 than in 2015.

Author(s): José Manuel Aburto, Jonas Schöley, Ilya Kashnitsky, Luyin Zhang, Charles Rahal, Trifon I Missov, Melinda C Mills, Jennifer B Dowd, Ridhi Kashyap

Publication Date: 26 Sept 2021

Publication Site: International Journal of Epidemiology