Lifespan inequality

We\’re often told that there is dire lifespan inequality across different parts of the UK.

Parts of Glasgae, for example, have male lifespans fully a decade (on average) shorter than rich southern places like Eastbourne or Frinton on Sea.

I don\’t doubt the raw firgures for a moment, but I do think there\’s an adjustment that should be made which isn\’t.

A new Tesco opened a year or two ago in Port Glasgow: a \”Tesco Extra\”, which in the taxonomy of Tesco\’s evangelical mission is a cathedral rather than a church (\”Tesco Superstore\”) or a wayside pulpit (\”Tesco Express\”). So far as I can tell, it prompted no serious protest, though Tesco has two other stores only two miles away in Greenock. But then these Clydeside towns face problems even greater than Castle Vale and Balsall Heath. After shipbuilding ended in the 1980s, about 18,000 people left them – a population decline of 18%. Another 14% are expected to leave in the next 15 years and a higher than average proportion of those who remain will be old and poor.

The adjustment isn\’t some Tesco Effect, no. Rather, it\’s that no adjustments are made for migration.

Just as examples, Eastbourne and Frinton are well known as retirement towns. People move there when they retire. And life expectancy at 65 is very different from life expectancy at birth. So, places which people move to when they\’ve already achieved 65 years of maturity are going to have higher average ages at death than those which do not attain such an influx.

This I think is clear enough?

But there\’s a second effect as well. Those places those people come from are going to have an artificially low age of average death: because the long lived have moved out.

OK, yes, I doubt very much that this adjustment will entirely close the gap in lifespans between poor areas and rich: but I am sure that by not making this adjustment we\’re overstating the size of the problem.

Like so many of the things we\’re told are evidence of how appalling this neo-liberal capitalist free market hell we\’ve built for ourselves, it really does depend upon how accurate the statistics are.

Local lifespans need to be adjusted for migration. Wealth inequality needs to be adjusted for the effects of the welfare state, just as we already do with income inequality. Health inequality needs to account for how failing health can lead to falling incomes: not just assume that all health inequality is caused by income inequality.

And, of course, the presence of foreigners prostituting themselves cannot be taken as evidence that foreigners are being forced to work as sex slaves.

Even if the way we are ruled now means that none of those four corrections to the raw figures are actually made.

4 thoughts on “Lifespan inequality”

  1. This is well known,surely? In the BBC report on health inquality Danny Doling, Sheffield Pofessor, said: “This is not just about poverty. Poverty is part of it, but it’s also about people moving around the country to improve their health and wealth,” he said.”Part of the reason east Glasgow has such poor health is that it has one of the highest rates of out-migration.

    I’m all for correcting data, but it does get very complex and politicised. You want to correct wealth for the welfare state, but not most rich people’s much better propsects for employment, or their benefits from other governmetn services. I’m sure there are opposite arguments.

    Tim adds: I hadn’t realised that Dorling had made that point. Good for him (although I do get rather angry about some of the things he says). But then that just shows how right I am in hte point I’m making, doesn’t it?

  2. The issue I always have with life expectancy tables is that they can only reflect the figures of those already dead – not those still alive.

    Thus, the figures for any area reflect the life and times of, say, 50 years ago, not now, when there were more men in heavy manufacturing and smoking was much more prevalent.

    Am I misunderstanding the figures as given?

  3. The reason it’s not corrected is because it would reduce the inequalities exactly as you have explained – and why would any sensible rentseeker wish to minimise his “something must be done” factor?

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