Life expectancy

1. Key messages

In 2020, life expectancy at birth was 80.8 years. Due to COVID-19, life expectancy at birth has decreased by one year, as it was 81.8 years in 2019.
Life expectancy is higher among women (83.1 in 2020) than among men (78.5 in 2020).
Regional disparities are observed in life expectancy. Flanders has the highest life expectancy (82.0 in 2020), followed by Brussels (79.6 in 2020) and Wallonia (79.0 in 2020).
An important socio-economic gradient is also observed with better life expectancy in higher than in lower educated people.

2. Background

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 educational level has been chosen as socioeconomic indicator. 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 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).

Life expectancy at birth by sex, Belgium, 2000-2020
Source: Statbel [1]

Trends and regional differences

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).

  • Men
  • Women

Life expectancy at birth by region, men, 2000-2020
Source: Statbel [1]

Life expectancy at birth by region, women, 2000-2020
Source: Statbel [1]

Socio-economic differences

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, 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.

  • Men
  • Women

Life expectancy at birth among men, EU-15 countries, 2019
Source: OECD Health Data [4]

Life expectancy at birth among women, EU-15 countries, 2019
Source: OECD Health Data [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 educational 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 merging different databases: the first one constitutes 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, 2000-2019. 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 merger 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/