1. Key messages
Life expectancy at a given age is the number of years a person of that age can expect to live, on average, based on current mortality conditions. Life expectancy at birth is the most common life expectancy indicator. It is a good indicator of the current level of health in a population across all generations.
However, in case of a temporary health crisis with an impact on mortality, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy has important limitations. Indeed, it is very likely that with the disappearance of the pandemic, mortality conditions will be very different in the near future from those observed in 2020. Life expectancy in 2020 must therefore be interpreted in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Life expectancy is presented in this report by sex, by region, and by socio-economic level.
The life expectancy by socio-economic level presented here is the result of analyses done by the demographic institute of the UCLouvain . The socio-economic groups are constructed based on a composite indicator that factors for each individual the educational level, the socio-professional category, the housing conditions, and the household income. Each individual gets a score and four quartiles are defined to create four socio-economic groups: disadvantaged, middle low, middle high, and advantaged. A fifth group, called the undetermined, is constituted of the individual for which the information was missing for at least two of the four dimensions. In practice, Brussels’ residents and population from African’s origin are overrepresented in this group.
3. Life expectancy
In 2019, the life expectancy at birth (LE) was 81.8 years in Belgium. It has increased continuously since decades, except in 2012 and in 2015 where slight decreases were observed. Since 2000, 4 years were gained.
In 2019, the LE was 4.4 years higher for women (84.0 years) than for men (79.6 years). The LE increased faster in men than in women. Between 2000 and 2019, the LE increased by 5 years in men and by 3.1 years in women, reducing the gender gap. After a 3 years stagnation in women (2016-2018), the LE rose markedly in 2019, in both men (+0.4 year) and in women (+0.3 year).
In 2020, due to the excess mortality caused by COVID-19, the life expectancy fell by 1 year, dropping to 80.8 years. The 2020 LE was 4.5 years higher for women (83.1 years) than for men (78.6 years).
Source: Statbel 
The decrease in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 is mainly due to the contribution of people aged 60 years and over. In men, the 60-79 age group most contributed to the 1 year decrease (-0.55 year). In women, the 80+ age group was the main contributor to the life expectancy fall (-0.59 year out of the 0.9 year in total).
Source: Bourguignon et al. 
In 2019, the life expectancy at birth was highest in Flanders (82.7), intermediate in Brussels (81.6), and lowest in Wallonia (80.3). During the period 2000-2019, the LE increased in all three regions. However, the gap between Flanders and the other regions increased: from 2 to 2.4 years for the difference between Flanders and Wallonia, and from 0.5 to 1.1 for the difference between Flanders and Brussels.
The regional differences in LE at birth are larger in men than in women. In men, the LE in Flanders was 2.9 years higher than in Wallonia and 1.6 years higher than Brussels while in women, the LE in Flanders was 1.9 years higher than in Wallonia and 0.9 years higher than Brussels.
During the period 2000-2019, the gains in LE were larger in men than in women in all 3 regions: men gained 5.1, 4.4, and 4.8 years in Flanders, Brussels, Wallonia respectively while women gained 3.3, 2.9, and 2.7 years.
In 2020, the LE decreased in all regions and for both sexes. It was still higher in Flanders (82.0 years) than in Brussels (79.6 years) and in Wallonia (79 years). The decrease was higher in Brussels (-2 years) and in Wallonia (-1.3 years) than in Flanders (-0.7 year).
In 2019, a gradient in life expectancy was observed between socio-economic group. The gaps between the advantaged and disadvantaged quartiles reached 8.9 years in men and 6.0 years in women. In 2020, life expectancy decreased in every groups for both sexes, with a lower decrease in the advantaged group, further increasing the socio-economic gaps to 9.3 years in men and 6.3 years in women. In both years, the undetermined group had the lowest LE, and in 2020, the LE fall was the highest in this group.
Life expectancy at birth in Belgium is slightly lower than the EU-15 average, and this is true for both men and women. Belgium ranks 8th for men and 9th for women among the EU-15 countries. In addition, the difference between Belgium and the EU countries with the highest LE is substantial: 1.7 years in men when compared with Sweden and 2.4 years in women when compared with Spain.
4. Read more
- The EU-15 corresponds to all countries that belonged to the European Union between 1995 and 2004: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. We compare the Belgian health status to that of the EU-15 because these countries have similar socioeconomic conditions.
- Life expectancy at birth
- Life expectancy at birth is the average number of years a newborn can expect to live, if death rates of the reference are considered and do not change in the coming years.
- Bourguignon M, Damiens J, Doignon Y, Eggerickx T, Fontaine S, Lusyne P, et al. Variations spatiales et sociodémographiques de mortalité de 2020-2021 en Belgique. L’effet de la pandémie Covid-19, Document de travail 27. Louvain-la-Neuve: Centre de recherche en démographie; 2021. https://cdn.uclouvain.be/groups/cms-editors-demo/isa/DT272s1NV.pdf
- Statbel, 2000-2020. https://statbel.fgov.be/en/themes/population/life-expectancy-and-life-tables
- OECD Health Data. https://stats.oecd.org/