Growth in life expectancy slows, but people still live longer healthy lives

Pensioners. Photo is illustrative.
Pensioners. Photo is illustrative. Source: (Martin Dremljuga/ERR)

In 2020, life expectancy at birth for Estonian inhabitants was 78.8 years, data from Statistics Estonia shows. Male life expectancy was 74.4 years and female life expectancy was 82.8 years for the second year in a row.

Men are expected to live disability-free for 55.5 years and women for 59.5 years.

Compared to the statistics published last year, men in Estonia live a healthy life for a year and five months longer. Healthy life years for women have increased by a year and 11 months.

Life expectancy and healthy life years, 1989-2020 Source: Statistics Estonia.

Ethel Maasing, leading analyst at Statistics Estonia, said life expectancy has shown a growth trend since 1995, but there was a slight decrease in 2020, by 0.07 percent.

"The growth in life expectancy was slowed by the somewhat higher mortality last year compared to the last 10 years. This is still a minimal change and only concerns the life expectancy of men. Women's life expectancy stayed at the same level as in 2019," said Maasing.

The indicator of disability-free life expectancy has overall remained stable. After a small drop in 2018, a rise in disability-free life expectancy can be noted. In 2020, the growth occurred primarily among persons of Estonian ethnic nationality and those living in urban areas.

Women in Estonia still live significantly longer than men, but the gap has narrowed over the years. While in 1995, women lived for 12.8 years longer than men, in 2020, the indicator fell by four years, and is currently at 8.4 years.

"Male life expectancy in Estonia has now reached the level of female life expectancy in 1995. However, the gender gap is considerably smaller in the case of healthy life years – just four years in the favour of women. This means that the life expectancy of men is shorter, but the share of time lived without activity limitations is greater than for women," Maasing said.

Life expectancy depends on many factors. The greatest differences occur in the breakdown by education: life expectancy of persons with higher education is 82.2 years, while it is 72.9 years for persons with basic education.

By counties, the longest life expectancy is in Hiiu and Harju counties and the shortest in Ida-Viru and Võru counties. Non-Estonians living in Estonia are expected to live a somewhat shorter life, respectively 77.4 and 78.9 years.

In comparison with the Baltic countries, life expectancy is highest in Estonia. In 2020, the indicator was 75.1 years in both Latvia and Lithuania, and it also fell last year in both countries: in Latvia, by 0.5 years, and in Lithuania, by 1.3 years. At the same time, the average life expectancy in Europe in 2019 was 81.3 years – all three Baltic countries fall below this level. In neighboring Finland, life expectancy is 82.2 years, which is 3.4 years more than in Estonia.

In Europe in 2019, the indicator for women was highest in Malta (73.5 years) and lowest in Latvia (54.1 years), and for males, it was highest in Sweden (73.8 years) and lowest in Latvia (52.2 years).

"Compared to the European Union average, the indicator is worse for men than for women living in Estonia: men's disability-free life expectancy is 10 years shorter and women's indicator is seven years below the EU average," added Maasing.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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