Life expectancy

Life expectancy is the number of remaining years that a person of a certain age can expect to live, assuming current mortality conditions. For instance, life expectancy at birth in Belgium was 81.4 years in 2017, meaning that a baby born in Belgium in 2017 could expect to live 81.4 years.

Why use the Life Expectancy indicator?

The health of a population can be described by a variety of indicators, encompassing aspects of

  • longevity
  • mortality
  • perceived health
  • wellbeing
  • morbidity
  • functional status

or a combination of those measures.  Life expectancy, as a typical indicator of longevity, is one of the frequently used health status indicators. 

How to interpret the Life Expectancy indicator?

Life expectancy reflects the average longevity of a population, and as such, gives a general overview of the population’s global health status. Measuring Life Expectancy over a long period can inform on evolution over time; in addition it can be used for benchmarking against other countries. 

The changes in life expectancy cannot be attributed to specific causes. Actual gains in life expectancy are the result of a number of factors including, for instance, rising living standards, improved lifestyles, better education, reduction of road accidents, greater access to quality health services, etc. …  

How does life expectancy evolve over time?

Most European countries, including Belgium, have experienced a dramatic increase in life expectancy throughout the past decades. In Belgium, Life Expectancy at birth was 76 years in 1990 and increased steadily, to reach 81.4 years in 2017.

Can we get more information from the Life expectancy indicator?

Changes in Life expectancy can be further explored by researchers. For instance, it is interesting for policy-makers to know if a gain in life expectancy is mostly due to a decrease in infant mortality or to a decline in mortality at older ages. It could also be the result of the diminishing death rate due to specific causes such as road accidents, or ischemic heart diseases, etc. … Such detailed information will help evaluate the impact of interventions and detect issues that could be improved. This crucial additional information can be obtained by decomposing the changes in Life Expectancy by age group and/or by cause of death.

One of Sciensano’s key objectives is to measure and monitor the population’s health by following up on relevant indicators, one of them being life expectancy. We track and publish life expectancy (and mortality indicators) in Belgium by region and by province.

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