UK - The average life expectancy in the UK has reached its highest levels of 77.2 years for men and 81.5 years for women, but Watson Wyatt has warned pension schemes need to be careful when interpreting the figures. 

Latest data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed the average life expectancy from birth has increased from 73.4 years for men and 78.8 years for women in 1991-93 to 77.2 and 81.5 years respectively for people born between 2005-07.

The research also showed the life expectancy at age 65 has also reached a new high of 17.2 years for men and 19.9 years for women, while the gap in life expectancy between men and women has fallen from 5.4 years in 1991-93 to 4.3 years in 2005-07.

Although there is an overall improvement, the statistics highlighted a geographical variation in life expectancy, with the highest figure - from birth - of 83.7 years for men and 87.8 years for women found in Kensington and Chelsea, and the lowest figures of 70.8 for men and 77.1 years for women reported in Glasgow City.

In addition, Kensington and Chelsea reported the highest life expectancy for both sexes at the age of 65 - 22.7 years for men and 25.2 years for women - while Glasgow City remained at the bottom of the tables with a life expectancy at 65 of 13.8 years for men and 17.4 years for women.

However, Watson Wyatt warned the figures only show how long people of different ages will live if "mortality rates stay exactly where they were a couple of years ago", when in reality mortality rates are likely to change in future.

Paul Kitson, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt, pointed out the ONS data assumes someone aged 60 in 20 years time will have exactly the same chance of reaching their 61st birthday as someone aged 60 today.

But he suggested "how long people will actually live is a much more difficult question to answer", as Kitson noted in practice "the factors that have driven recent improvements in life expectancy will not simply be repeated".

For example, people cannot benefit from giving up smoking if they've never started, and those that do give up will only benefit from giving up once, so he claimed the wide variations in life expectancy should remind companies with defined benefit (DB) schemes to "look carefully at the characteristics of their own employees when agreeing with trustees how much money needs to be put aside".

Kitson said: "How any future gains are spread across the population will depend on what drives them and how accessible these lifestyle changes or medical advances are to people on lower incomes, and how they apply to different sexes."

He added schemes should not "double count" the characteristics of their employees, which means you cannot add the extra life expectancy linked to having a high income to the extra life expectancy associated with people living in a more affluent area, "as these two factors are almost certainly linked".

Kitson said while there is no "magic formula" to measure how long people will live, and the ONS figures demonstrate the "uncertainty and difference in life expectancies", he admitted there are increasingly sophisticated tools that can be used to try and understand the "underlying socio-economic profile which may help inform how long people may live in the future".