IIASA researchers have proposed a new method to quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on life expectancy.

A common approach traditionally used to determine the impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy was to calculate the differences in life expectancy at birth during a pandemic year – in this case 2021 – and in the year  preceding the pandemic – which for COVID-19 would be 2019. An IIASA study focusing on the United States and published in the journal Biology Methods and Protocols identified significant limitations to this method.

The researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the traditional calculation method and found that such comparisons are misleading as they do not account for the duration of the pandemic. The calculation of life expectancy in 2019 assumes that people spend their entire lives experiencing pre-pandemic mortality rates, while the calculation of life expectancy in 2021 assumes that people live their whole lives in a permanent pandemic, which is clearly not the case.

In their study, the researchers proposed a new method that enables the calculation of life expectancy that reflects the experience of people enduring pandemic-level mortality rates for fixed periods of time. This new quantity has been titled Hybrid Life Expectancy, as it integrates both pandemic and pre-pandemic mortality rates. The results of the study using this calculation method show that health crises have a much smaller impact on life expectancy than previous studies have suggested.