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The recession could be affecting our life expectancy because of austerity policies


Study author: Jan Rigby from Maynooth University

Study author: Jan Rigby from Maynooth University

Study author: Jan Rigby from Maynooth University

The recession may have had an adverse effect on life expectancy in Ireland, according to the latest research.

A newly published research paper has probed the effects of the global financial crash in 2008, and the austerity policies that were introduced across Europe.

There was an upward trend in life expectancy during the two decades preceding the global financial crash in 2008, but that trajectory has stalled and there has been a "major shift" in older-age mortality.

This trend was even more pronounced in some other European countries, including Greece and the UK, where health and social-care budgets were affected following the economic downturn, according to the study.

However, it noted that there has been no reduction in life expectancy gains in Finland and Norway, which "did not [choose] austerity".

This "might be telling", the research added.

Population projections based on the assumption of increasing life expectancy may now be challenged by the trends identified by the study, according to its author, Professor Jan Rigby from the Centre for Health Geoinformatics at Maynooth University.

The research paper, which was published in the latest issue of the 'Irish Medical Journal', examined the trajectories of life expectancies across Europe following the global recession and the implementation of various national austerity policies.

In Ireland, the study reviewed mortality rates between 1986 and 2008, and compared them to figures for people aged from 65 to 84 during the period 2011 to 2016.

It found that the increases recorded prior to the economic crash have stalled, though the change was less severe than in Greece, the UK and other Western mainland countries.

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Irish life expectancy at 65 had increased by three years for men and 2.6 years for women in 2005 compared to a decade earlier.

However, this trend had slowed substantially to 1.9 years for men and 1.2 years for women by the end of the following decade.

The study noted that life expectancy in Ireland was rising through to 2011, but recent changes in older-age mortality represented "a major shift".

This pattern was "clear" in 2016 but had begun at least by 2014, with some evidence of rises in 2012.

In the UK, improvements in life expectancy at birth have slowed since 2010, while life expectancy in some parts of England have actually decreased by more than a year since 2011.

"This is an extraordinary reversal," the paper said.

"The divergence currently under way in Europe since 2014 begs the question: into which group of countries will Ireland fall and why?

"The situation requires very careful monitoring," the study concluded.

For many decades in affluent countries, life expectancies had been improving by around two years every decade.

Life expectancies for women remain higher than for men.

The paper said that recession and austerity could be predicted to affect most heavily on the most vulnerable, particularly if health or social-care budgets were affected.

It remains to be seen whether the "stalling" which is now being noted is a temporary phenomenon in response to the global recession.

The full European figures for life expectancy for 2016 are yet to be released.

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