Britons from ethnic minorities live longer than their white counterparts and are less likely to die from cancer, government data has suggested.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) published data which shows that white and mixed-race Britons had a lower life expectancy at birth than all other ethnic groups, and members of the Asian, Bangladeshi and black African communities generally lived the longest.

The data, which covers the period from 2011 to 2014 in England, marks the first time that the government statistics body has linked the 2011 Census data with death registration data to give an overview of the ethnic differences in life expectancy. 

It found that the life expectancy of white Britons was 83.1 years for women and 79.7 years for men, compared with 88.9 for black African women and 83.8 years for men.

For Bangladeshi Britons, the life expectancy at birth rates were 87.3 for women and 81.1 for men.

For Indian people, the life expectancy rates were 85.4 for women and 82.3 for men, for Asian people the rate was 86.9 for women and 84.5 for men and for Pakistani women the rate was 84.8 for women and 79.7 for men.

The data also shows that white Britons were more likely than any other ethnic group to die of cancer (381.9 per 100,000 people for men, and 265.2 per 100,000 people for women). 

In contrast, deaths linked to cancer were lowest among Indian people (190.9 per 100,000 people for men, and 143.9 per 100,000 for women). 

Life expectancy

Dr Parth Patel, of the UCL Institute of Health Informatics where he uses data to improve the health of marginalised groups in society, said that the ONS data has confirmed patterns and trends which have long-since been reported in academia. 

Asked why white Britons were suspected to have the lowest life expectancy, he said that the theory of “the healthy migrant effect” may be feeding into the data. 

“Most migrants are economic migrants,” he explained, “and while, of course, there are second-generation migrants already in Britain, this data may include first-generation migrants too, and the theory is that if you’re making what is known to be an arduous journey to get to the UK, the presumption is that these people are probably quite healthy to start with.

“Second of all, older migrants are more likely to return home, and so their deaths are missing from this ONS data, which makes it look like they’re very old and still alive. That could also be playing into part of this data.”

Dr Patel, who is also a research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank, said that cancer deaths are often linked to lifestyle habits, such as smoking and drinking, which tend to be more prevalent among white people.

However, he added that there was “no Occam’s razor” for ethnic minority health data. “This data is super complicated,” he said. 

“It shows we should think clearly about any assumptions we hold about health and that there are several factors at play.”

Last year, a landmark review set up by Number 10 found that Covid-19 had hit ethnic minority communities in Britain harder than their white counterparts.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, led by Dr Tony Sewell, the education consultant tasked with investigating race disparity in the UK, concluded in his foreword to the long-awaited report: "Put simply, we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities."

The Commission found that black African men had been more than twice as likely to die of coronavirus during the first wave of the pandemic as white British men.

It highlighted that this was predominantly due to an increased risk of infection, noting factors such as deprivation and occupation.

Julie Stanborough, deputy director for health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: "Today’s new experimental data show that between 2011 and 2014 people of white and mixed ethnic groups had lower life expectancy at birth than all other ethnic groups, with the black African group having significantly higher life expectancy than most other groups.

“It also found the white ethnic group were more likely to die of cancer than their black or Asian counterparts, while for both sexes, ischaemic heart disease mortality was highest in the Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian groups.

“Further research is required to investigate the reasons for the differences. However, these results reveal important patterns in life expectancy and mortality by ethnic group which are complex, but nevertheless consistent with most previous studies.”