SEOUL (Reuters): Babies born in South Korea last year are expected to live 82.7 years, down from 83.6 years in 2021, the statistics agency said on Friday, after life expectancy fell in 2022 for the first time since 1970, hit by a spike in deaths linked to COVID-19.
Following a global trend of such declines over the past few years, the OECD grouping said last month that average life expectancy had dipped 0.7 years across its 39 member nations between 2019 and 2021.
COVID-19 caused 7% of all deaths in 2021, and life expectancy remains below pre-pandemic levels in 28 countries, it added.
Although South Korea’s life expectancy still ranks among the world’s highest after sharp improvements in recent decades, it also suffered from COVID.
“The number of COVID deaths increased sharply in 2022 and they ranked third among the causes of death,” Lim Young-il, an official of the agency, Statistics Korea, told a briefing.
In the absence of the coronavirus, life expectancy would have increased by 0.1 year rather than having fallen 0.9 years, Lim added. South Korea began tracking the data in 1970.
Neighbouring Japan has also seen its life expectancy fall for two consecutive years, with the pandemic cutting lifespans by 0.62 years for women and 0.51 years for men over the two years, to stand at 87.09 years and 81.05, respectively.
However, life expectancy figures have recovered in some countries, such as the United States, where they rose by roughly a year in 2022 after two straight years of decline.
South Korea managed to rein in COVID-19 deaths at the start of the pandemic before a sharp uptick in 2022, when the statistics agency recorded more than 370,000 deaths from the coronavirus.