100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better

Understanding the Life Expectancy of Different Ethnic Groups by Linking Data in Scotland

Published on: 22nd February 2017

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Public Health
Case Study 15

Professor Laurence Gruer, University of Edinburgh
Anne Douglas, University of Edinburgh

By linking census data for 4.62 million people to death records in Scotland, researchers from the University of Edinburgh have shown a connection between ethnic group and life expectancy.

The Challenge

The life expectancies of different ethnic groups within defined populations has been calculated in very few countries due to the lack of suitable data. If researchers could obtain such data, they would be able to assess and better understand the extent of health inequality across the ethnic groups of populations.

The Research

Researchers from the Scottish Health and Ethnicity Linkage Study (SHELS), based at the University of Edinburgh, used data for more than 4.6 million people whose self-defined ethnic group was recorded in the 2001 Scottish census.

The research team linked this information with the deaths recorded in Scotland over the next three years. All data used in the study were anonymised to ensure that individual people could not be identified.

The Results

The research showed that people in most of the larger ethnic minority groups in Scotland can expect to live several years longer than White Scots.

It was found that Pakistani females had the longest expected life span of 84.6 years, more than five years longer than the 79.4 years of White Scottish females. They were followed by Chinese (83.4 years), Indian (83.3 years) and Other White British (82.6 years) females.

Among males, those of Indian origin can expect to live the longest. Their average lifespan of 80.9 years was 6.2 years longer than White Scottish males. They were followed by Pakistani (79.3 years), Chinese (79.0 years) and Other White British (78.9 years) males.

The Impact

It is believed this is the first time that the life expectancies of different ethnic groups have been calculated in a European country using individual death records linked to self-defined ethnic group.

The team found that most of the larger ethnic minority groups had longer life expectancies at birth than the White Scottish majority, which may reflect the poorer average health of the White Scottish majority as much as the good health of minority groups. The poor health of the White Scots may be due to high levels of smoking and alcohol consumption, together with poor diet and high levels of air pollution in previous decades.

By using data in research, the relationship between a person’s ethnic group and a number of important health issues which affect the Scottish population could be examined. The results from this study have improved our understanding of life expectancy and highlight the scope for continuing health improvement across the whole population.

For more information visit

Enquiries to Cherry Martin, Communications Manager, The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research, cherry.martin@ed.ac.uk

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