Life expectancy in Europe

In 2008 an east-west divide cut through the European life expectancy map, a dividing line that became visible in the mid-1970s.

At the end of World War II, considerable improvements in healthcare began to be made everywhere in Europe. However, as the decades passed, the European life expectancy map changed profoundly because the pace of improvement was not the same in all countries:


  • In the early 1960s, mortality rates were fairly homogeneous in Europe while life expectancy at birth was longest in the north and shortest in the south.- In the 1970s, with the "cardiovascular revolution," northern, western and southern Europe gradually moved ahead thanks to medical innovation and behavioural changes (healthier lifestyles and diets). But the countries of eastern and central Europe remained on the margins of this development, particularly men, whose life expectancy stagnated.
  • In the 1980s, while the west continued to advance, notably thanks to the improved effectiveness of medical action against cancer-induced mortality, the situation continued to deteriorate in the east, where the political transition went together with a decline in the quality of public healthcare systems. - Though mean length of life in these two sub-regions (central and eastern Europe) started rising again in 1995, their lag behind the rest of Europe is not closing.
  • Furthermore, in the last decades, male and female life expectancies have begun to converge. The Scandinavian countries pioneered this trend, which has gradually spread to the rest of Europe. But eastern European countries and most central European countries have remained on the margins of this development as well.
  • Despite the different histories of Europe’s regions over the period, the map of life expectancy at birth in Europe remains as it was around the late 1980s, and the east-west divide can be expected to persist for another decade.


Male and female life expectancy at birth in the countries of Europe, 2008

Source: Alexandre Adveev, Tatiana Eremenko, Patrick Festy, Joëlle Gaymu, Nathalie Le Bouteillec, Sabine Springer, (2011), Populations and Demographic Trends of European Countries, 1980-2010, Ined, Population, 66 (1)
Contact: Patrick Festy, Joëlle Gaymu, Nathalie Le Bouteillec
Online: November 2011