Society 22/04/2021

"Not since the Civil War": the pandemic is causing years of life to be lost in areas with the highest levels of infection

A group of researchers find that life expectancy falls more in the provinces most affected by covid-19

3 min

Not since the Civil War has anything like this been seen: as revealed a few days ago by Eurostat, the pandemic has reduced life expectancy in Spain by 1.6 years, which has become the European Union country with the steepest decline in this indicator, which calculates the number of years that a given population lives in a given period of time. Now a group of researchers from the Centre for Demographic Studies of the UAB have crossed the data of coronavirus infection in the State with life expectancy by Spanish provinces and have found very important differences between communities: the territories with more accumulated infection of covid-19, as the Castillas, have lost more life expectancy, while in the provinces where there has not been so much affectation, such as the Canary Islands, life expectancy has been less affected.

Thus, in Segovia, Salamanca, Ciudad Real and Albacete both men and women have lost more than 2.4 years of life due to the pandemic. "There is a correlation between life expectancy and covid seroprevalence studies", confirms Sergi Trias-Llimós, a researcher at the Centre for Demographic Studies and co-author of the study, to the ARA. Although it might seem so, researchers believe that the aging of the population does not play a key role in explaining the decline in life expectancy: "What is really correlated is the incidence of the virus. The provinces where life expectancy falls the most are the ones that have suffered the most infections".

Proof of this is that the pandemic has also taken its toll on life expectancy in the two most populated (and not so aged) provinces: in Madrid there have been falls of 2.8 years among men and 2.2 among women, and in Barcelona life expectancy has fallen by 1.9 years among men and 2 among women. In the other three Catalan provinces, on the other hand, the decline is not so sharp. "In the province of Barcelona there are the capital and the metropolitan area, i.e. the densest areas and where there has been more affectation, as well as the Conca d'Òdena and other regions, such as Osona, which have always been above average", argues Trias-Llimós.

In Tenerife, life expectancy has increased by almost a year

The enormous differences between provinces can be explained, therefore, by the unequal impact of the pandemic - especially during the first wave - in the Spanish territories. In fact, in the Balearic and Canary Islands, the first areas where the easing of restrictions began, life expectancy has not only not decreased but has increased: in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, for example, it has increased by 1.1 years in the case of men and 0.6 years in the case of women. It is the Spanish territory where this indicator has increased the most. According to the researcher, this could be explained because there are some areas where the state of alarm and the general lockdown of the population came before the explosion of cases of covid-19. "People did not leave home and external causes of death, such as traffic accidents, occupational accidents and those related to risky activities, were greatly reduced", explains Trias-Llimós.

In any case, however, the researchers have reached almost the same conclusion as the Eurostat: the covid-19 pandemic has caused a reduction in life expectancy of 1.5 years compared to 2019, or 1.2 years if the 2017-2019 period is taken as a reference. "These year-on-year falls from one year to the next are a truly exceptional phenomenon that we have not seen since the war years", explains Trias-Llimós. Now, demographers predict that thanks to the vaccine, life expectancy recorded in 2021 will be closer to the 2019 figure than to that of 2020. "It is likely to recover relatively quickly", the researcher concludes.