How does where you live affect your lifespan?

In September, NRS published life expectancy estimates which showed that a boy born in Scotland in 2014-2016 could expect to live until he was 77 years old and a girl could expect to live until she was 81 years old. Today NRS publish life expectancy in Scottish areas. These estimates show how life expectancy in different places within Scotland differs from the national figures.

We always report life expectancy separately for males and females, as women consistently outlive men. This is something which is seen not just in Scotland but all over the world in every country and population.

Between the 32 council areas in Scotland, life expectancy differs by as much as 7 years for men and 4.7 years for women. A baby boy who was born between 2014-2016 could expect to live until he was 80.3 years old if he was born in Orkney Islands. If however he was born in Glasgow City, he could only expect to reach 73.4 years old.

A baby girl on the other hand could expect to live for 83.5 years if she were born in East Renfrewshire or East Dunbartonshire, but if she were born in nearby West Dunbartonshire, she could expect to live for 78.8 years.

Enter your council area on this interactive visualisation to find out how life expectancy at birth compares to other council areas or to Scotland as a whole.

So why do we see such a difference in life expectancy across Scotland? One answer might lie in how urban or rural the area is that people live in. The Scottish Government’s ‘Urban-Rural 6 fold classification’ [*1] is a system that classifies small areas into six groups depending on the number of people living there and the distance from larger towns.

In the ‘Life Expectancy in Scottish Areas’ publication, NRS compare life expectancy for people who live in the different urban-rural areas. Both males and females live longer in more rural areas compared to more urban areas. There are many possible reasons for this, for example, air pollution is much lower in rural areas, meaning that people are less likely to develop diseases in their lungs and airways. It is also possible that people in the countryside have more active lifestyles, resulting in lower incidences of heart disease and obesity related diseases.

Blog life expectancy 1
Females could expect to live 2 years longer in ‘Remote Rural’ areas than in ‘Large Urban’ areas. Males are expected to live 3.6 years longer in ‘Accessible Rural’ areas than in ‘Large Urban’ areas.


The ‘Life Expectancy in Scottish Areas’ publication also reports on how deprivation affects life expectancy. To do this, NRS statisticians use the Scottish Government’s ‘Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation’ [*2] (SIMD) which gives each small area across Scotland a rank depending on how they score on a series of deprivation measures (i.e. access to health care, employment, income and housing availability amongst others). NRS divides these small areas into five groups based on their SIMD score and calculates life expectancy for these groups (known as quintiles).

The statistics show that males living in quintile one (which represents the 20 per cent most deprived areas of Scotland) can expect to live for 10.5 years shorter than males who live in quintile five (the 20 per cent least deprived areas). For females, there is a difference of seven years between those living in quintile one and quintile five.

Blog life expectancy 2

The difference in life expectancy between different SIMD quintiles is larger than the difference between council areas and much larger than the difference between urban and rural areas. This suggests that life expectancy in Scottish areas is more affected by deprivation than by location or rurality.

If you would like to know more about life expectancy in Scotland, please visit the NRS website. The publication ‘Life Expectancy for Areas within Scotland, 2014-2016’ includes life expectancy estimates for Council areas, Health boards and Scottish Parliamentary constituencies as well as estimates for areas by SIMD and Urban-Rural classification.

If you would like to know more about life expectancy for areas across the UK, please visit the ONS website. The ONS also produce estimates of healthy life expectancy and disability free life expectancy as part of their life expectancy publication.

Maria Kaye

Assistant Statistician

National Records of Scotland

*1 For more information on the Urban-Rural classification system, please see the ‘Defining Scotland by Rurality’ section on the Scottish government website.
*2 For more information on SIMD, please see the ‘Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation’ section on the Scottish government website.

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