Life expectancy

1. Key messages

In 2017, the life expectancy at birth in Belgium was 81.4 years, and is evolving favorably (it was 77.8 in year 2000). Compared to the EU-15 countries, Belgium is however ranking quite poor.
A considerable gender gap is observed with life expectancy in women exceeding by almost 5 years the one of men (respectively 83.7 and 79.0 years) in 2017. This gap is decreasing over time.
Large regional disparities are observed in life expectancy at birth, that is higher in Flanders, intermediate in Brussels and lower in Wallonia (respectively 82.2, 81.2 and 79.8 years in 2017). The regional gap has slightly increased over the last 17 years.
The life expectancy reveals an important socio-economic gradient, with better life expectancy in higher than in low educated people.

2. Background

Life expectancy (LE) at a given age is the number of years a person of that age can expect to live, in average, based on current mortality conditions. Life expectancy at birth (also called longevity) is the most common life expectancy indicator. It is a good indicator of the current level of health in a population across all generations.

Life expectancy can be broken down by sex, region or several socio-economic variables, such as educational level. The life expectancy by educational level is calculated at ages 25 and over, as the educational attainment is mostly achieved at this age. In this report, we calculated the LE by educational level at ages 25, 50 and 65, using the census 2011 linked with the national register.

The educational level (EL) was measured using the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) categories, then grouped into 3 levels:

  • Low (categories 0, 1, 2)
  • Mid (categories 3, 4)
  • High (categories 5, 6)

3. Life expectancy

Belgium

In 2017, the life expectancy at birth in Belgium was 81.4 years. It increases continuously since decades, except in year 2015 where a slight decrease was observed; the increase from year 2000 (77.8 years) was 3.6 years.

In 2017, the LE was nearly 4.7 years higher for women (83.7 years) than for men (79.0 years). However, the LE increases faster in men than in women: during the period 2000-2017, the LE increased by 4.4 years in men and by 2.7 years in women, reducing the gender gap from 6.5 to 4.7 years.

Life expectancy at birth by sex, Belgium, 2000-2017
Source: Statbel, 2000-2017 [1]

Life expectancy and trends by region

In 2017, the life expectancy at birth was highest in Flanders (82.2 years), intermediate in Brussels (81.2) and lowest in Wallonia (79.8). During the 2000-2017 period, life expectancy increased in all regions and for both sexes, but the gap between Flanders and the other regions increased (the gap passed from 2 to 2.4 years for Wallonia, and from 0.6 to 1 year in Brussels).

Regional differences in life expectancy at birth are larger among men than among women. In men, the LE in Flanders was 3 years higher than in Wallonia and 1.6 years higher than in Brussels in 2017. In women, the LE in Flanders was 1.9 years higher than in Wallonia and 0.7 years higher than in Brussels.

  • Men
  • Women

Life expectancy at birth by region, men, 2000-2017
Source: Statbel, 2000-2017 [1]

Life expectancy at birth by region, women, 2000-2017
Source: Statbel, 2000-2017 [1]

Life expectancy by educational level

Life expectancy at any given age shows a socio-economic gradient, being highest at high educational level (EL), intermediate at intermediate and lowest at low EL. This socio-economic differential is more pronounced for men, with a 6.1 years' gap between the lowest and highest EL for the LE at 25, compared with a gap of 4.6 years in women. The following differentials are observed as well:

  • 4.4 years in men and 3.5 years in women for the life expectancy at age 50
  • 3 years in men and 2.6 years in women for the life expectancy at age 65
  • Men
  • Women

Life expectancy at age 25, 50 and 65, by educational level among men, Belgium, 2011
Source: Own calculation based on census 2011 linked data with 5 years’ mortality follow-up [2,3]

Life expectancy at age 25, 50 and 65, by educational level among women, Belgium, 2011
Source: Own calculation based on census 2011 linked data with 5 years’ mortality follow-up [2,3]

International comparison

Life expectancy at birth in Belgium is slightly lower than the EU-15 average, for both men and women: for men, Belgium has the fifth lowest life expectancy at birth among the EU-15 countries; for women, Belgium has the sixth lowest position. More important is that the gap between the LE observed in Belgium as compared with the countries with the highest one is substantial (-2 years in men when compared with Italy and -2.3 years in women when compared with Spain). At current rate of increase in LE, it would take 10 years for Belgium to catch up if the other countries stayed at the current level.

  • Men
  • Women

Life expectancy at birth among men, EU-15 countries, 2016 or nearest year
Source: OECD, Health Data, 2016 or nearest year [4]

Life expectancy at birth among women, EU-15 countries, 2016 or nearest year
Source: OECD, Health Data, 2016 or nearest year [4]

4. Read more

View the metadata for this indicator

SPMA: Standardized Procedures for Mortality Analysis in Belgium

Definitions

EU-15
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.
International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED)
ISCED is the reference international classification for organizing education programs and related qualifications by levels and fields. It contains categories from 0 to 6:
  • 0: Early childhood education (‘less than primary’)
  • 1: Primary education
  • 2: Lower secondary education
  • 3: Upper secondary education
  • 4: Post-secondary non-tertiary education
  • 5: Short-cycle tertiary education, Bachelor’s, Master’s
  • 6: Doctoral or equivalent level
Life expectancy at 25 by educational level
This computation is more complex than the simple life expectancy by sex or region, because life tables by educational level have to be built. This requires to merge different databases: the first one constitute the cohort of individuals (it can be the whole population or a sample), from which we know the individual educational level. This cohort is then linked with the mortality register. In this report, we used the census 2011 linked with the national register for a 5 year follow up of mortality.
Life expectancy at a given age
Life expectancy at a given age is the average number of years remaining to be lived by a person of that given age.
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.

References

  1. Statbel, 2000-2017. https://statbel.fgov.be/en/themes/population/life-expectancy-and-life-tables
  2. Mortality follow-up of census 2011 (dataset: National Mortality database 2011, which is a merge of the 2011 census, the National Register and the causes of death register, Statbel)
  3. Renard F, Devleesschauwer B, Van Oyen H, Gadeyne S, Deboosere P (2019) Evolution of educational inequalities in life and health expectancies at 25 years in Belgium between 2001 and 2011: a census-based study. Arch Public Health 77:6. doi: 10.1186/s13690-019-0330-8
  4. OECD, Health Data. https://stats.oecd.org/