Life expectancy at birth is the wrong comparison when talking about Covid deaths among the elderly

It’s not unusual in discussing the impact of Covid to mention that the majority of deaths are in the elderly, and it’s not unusual to then compare with life expectancy. But the number presented is almost always life expectancy at birth, which is not an appropriate comparison.

Now there likely isn’t a readily available appropriate comparison. Most of the elderly killed by COVID have additional risk factors, and the sub-population with those risk factors would have a different life expectancy than their age cohort in general. But I think it’s worth doing some ignorance fighting and inform people that someone who is over seventy isn’t expected to keel over shortly. In fact, based on 2017 mortality, the life expectancy of someone who is 78 is 9.4 more years.

I’ll say it again for those in the back, the population of 78 year olds is expected, on average, to live for almost 10 more years!

I was a bit sloppy in my reading of the table. 9.4 is for males. For females it’s 10.9.

Good point. Life expectancy at birth includes the chance of dying from childhood diseases, etc., and a 78 year old has gotten past all those things.

Your point is a reasonable thing to talk about, but I don’t accept your assertion that you’re fighting widespread ignorance, that everyone else is doing it wrong. Please give a cite for anyone being so specific as to estimate the number of years of remaining life expectancy of COVID victims, and doing it wrong in the way you describe? I have never seen it.

I personally think there’s a difference between “it’s not unusual” and “fighting ignorance”, which is what I wrote, and “fighting widespread ignorance” and “everyone else is doing it wrong”, which you say I’ve asserted.

I also didn’t say it’s being used directly to estimate the number of years of remaining life expectancy, I wrote it was being compared to the age group hardest hit.

It’s difficult to search for, as there is a lot published now on the just as meaningless “COVID will affect average life expectancy” calculations, but here’s a daily fail article with a terrible headline and opening, even if it gets nuanced for those who keep reading (i.e. not Daily Mail readers.).

I don’t have a cite handy myself. But anecdotally I have seen among the Darwinian-minded folks that are more dismissive of the dangers of COVID-19 the notion that ‘most of those people would have died soon anyway’ due to a combination of age and co-morbidities. Soon is the weasel-word here. The implication always seems to be that COVID-19 is just hastening the death of those at death’s door already, not that it is killing people that might have had another decade or two of life to look forward to, diabetes or no diabetes.

So to fight ignorance this really needs to not be just an aside. By far the biggest chunk of deaths in the age groups are among those in assisted living facilities, mainly nursing homes, infirm and with multiple co-morbidities. Future life expectancy there not so great.

Now I am also not hearing that comparison to life expectancy made very often, don’t make it myself, (although I am not adverse to considerations of QALY) but comparing to the average person 78 years old is perhaps not an appropriate comparison.

naita, we must be on the same wavelength, because I looked up that exact actuarial table about 3 or 4 days ago. I did it in response to a post I saw, possibly on these boards, but probably on Facebook. The person said that the average age of a death from COVID was 78, which is also the average life expectancy. Now they weren’t coming right out and saying that everyone who dies from COVID is on death’s door, but there is an implication there.

So what do the stats say about mortality rates for people in certain age groups in 2020 compared to previous years? How much “sooner” are people dying?

I expect those data are not readily available and require careful analysis due to year over year variations.

That would surprise me. I’d imagine actuaries keep and update that info all the time. And I know people on-line have tried to find increased death rates this year compared to previous years.

One of the most challenging aspects of this pandemic is that commentators infrequently seem to take the effort to provide the information in a manner such that it is meaningful. Instead, we are given broadbrush stats, and are forced to do a deep dive ourselves to try to put it into some context to assess our personal risks.

Actuary here. Expected mortality by age band is certainly available, and the US is large enough that the year-to-year numbers aren’t all that “noisy” as a percent of expected.

What’s hard to get a hold of is

  • How many people are dying of covid by age
  • How many people have died this year by age
  • Up-to-date detailed info of how many people are alive by age in order to calculate the expected number of deaths

I think all those can be gotten – although covid deaths are reported differently by every state, and usually any age stats are fairly large age-bands, and each state has picked different age bands. But it’s a lot of work to gather all the data and put it together nicely. I’ve toyed with trying to do so, but don’t really have time or energy.