People from white and mixed ethnic groups had lower life expectancy compared with Black and Asian groups in England and Wales between 2011 and 2014, according to analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The study linked 2011 census and death registration data to produce estimates of life expectancy and cause of death by ethnic group.
For women, those in the white and in the mixed ethnic groups had a life expectancy of 83.1 years, while those in the Black African group were nearly six years better off, at 88.9. For men, those in the white and mixed groups had a life expectancy of 79.7 and 79.3 years respectively, while those in the Asian other group (Asian, but not Indian or Bangladeshi or Chinese) had a life expectancy of nearly five years greater at 84.5, while men of Black African ethnicity trailed at 83.8.
Dr Veena Raleigh, a senior fellow at the King’s Fund thinktank, said that the ONS analysis was robust and consistent with previous research. Academics and commentators often say ethnic minorities have the worst health outcomes, she said, “but that’s not always supported by the evidence.”.
One key reason that may explain higher life expectancy among ethnic minorities is the so-called “healthy migrant effect”. There is evidence that migrants tend to be healthier, with lower levels of smoking, alcohol consumption and other risk factors, she said, noting that this effect wanes over time as the following generations generally assume similar lifestyles as native populations.
There are, however, specific diseases that tend to disproportionately afflict certain groups. Mortality driven by heart disease is significantly higher in people of Asian ethnicity, while there are significantly higher rates of cancer in white people compared with Black and Asian ethnic groups.
“So, there are ethnic differences in health, but we need to be very precise in knowing what the data is showing, and targeting the specific factors affecting health in specific groups,” she said. “It’s a kaleidoscope … and you need a magnifying glass to identify what the problems are, why they’re occurring, and how they should be addressed.”
Dr Raghib Ali, senior clinical research associate at the University of Cambridge, said that this data shows that the disproportionate impact of Covid on minority ethnic groups has reversed their previous mortality advantage – not exacerbated a previous disadvantage.
As exemplified by Covid, the biggest driver of worse health outcomes is deprivation, highlighted Raleigh, noting there are millions of poor, white people who are also affected by health inequalities.
“This is about reducing health inequalities overall and in specific groups as indicated… addressing ethnic minority health needs where indicated, but also addressing the health needs of poor white people,” she said. “I think that’s how nationally we will get to a better place.”