How has life expectancy changed since 2020 because of COVID-19?

A joint study by Stefano Mazzucco (University of Padova) and Stefano Campostrini (Ca’ Foscari) and published in the international journal PLOS-ONE shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on life expectancy in many countries around the world. 

Life expectancy in Italy

By using data from the Human Mortality Database, the authors of the study estimated how life expectancy at birth — that is, the number of years that a person can expect to live, on average, based on the mortality rate of that year — changed in 2020. In Italy, which has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, life expectancy used to be over 83 years in 2019. In 2020 it was 82 years, dropping by 1.34 years compared to 2019.

Data in other countries 

Life expectancy dropped by 2.16 years in Russia, by 1.85 years in the USA, and by 1.27 years in England and Wales. There are noticeable differences among countries. In fact, many countries (such as Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, South Korea) have seen a rather limited drop or have even seen an increase in life expectancy. 

The study shows that the impact of the pandemic on the demographic structure was based not only on the number of people who died because of COVID-19, but also on the age of these people, and more generally on the age structure of different populations. For example, although in Italy the number of COVID-19-related deaths was higher than in many other countries, the impact of the pandemic on Italy’s demographic structure may be lower than elsewhere. 

The authors of the study are currently analysing data from 2021 for future publication. So far, the data seems to indicate that some countries, including Italy, have partially recovered the expectancy “lost” in 2020. Some countries (including those in Eastern Europe) seem to be doing worse, while others seem to remain stable (including countries in Northern Europe, Asia and Oceania). 

According to Professor Stefano Campostrini, “The study of mortality rates can help us understand the true impact of the pandemic on the demographic structure of a population. Comparisons between countries allow us to gain a better understanding of the history of each country.” 

“While in 2020 the situation among different countries was very different, in 2021 we can observe a common element: in countries in which the majority of the population was vaccinated against COVID-19, the effect of the pandemic on mortality rates was minimal,” adds Professor Stefano Mazzucco.

Moreover, the data shows that mortality rates were lower in the countries which reached a high vaccination coverage — not only for COVID-19, but also for all other causes of death.

Author: Federica Ferrarin / Translator: Joangela Ceccon