Cheryl Kahla
Deputy Online News Editor
2 minute read
19 Jul 2021
12:27 pm

Covid-19 pandemic reduces life expectancy in SA by three years

Cheryl Kahla

Here's how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted life expectancy in South Africa.

Picture: iStock

For 2021, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) estimates the mid-year population at 60.14 million people: an increase of about 604,281 (1.01%) since mid-year 2020. Here’s how Covid-19 impacted life expectancy.

South Africa’s mid-year population report

Life expectancy in 2021

Unfortunately, the latest report shows how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted mortality and life expectancy in South Africa. As expected, the country experienced a peak in deaths during the first and second waves.

According to Stats SA, “this resulted in a significant increase in the crude death rate [CDR] from 8.7 deaths per 1,000 people in 2020 to 11.6 deaths per 1,000 people in 2021. The significant rise in deaths in 2021 [approximately 34%], meant a drop in the 2021 life expectancy [LE] at birth for South Africa”.

To break it down, the life expectancy for men dropped by 3.1 years for men (from 62.4 in 2020 to 59.3 in 2021), and by 3.8 years for women (from 68.4 to 64.6).

Impact of Covid-19 waves

This after the first two waves of Covid-19 infections swept across South Africa between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021.

The second and third waves (driven by the Beta and Delta variants respectively) resulted in “significantly higher proportions of deaths in the country than would normally have occurred; as a result of this rise in deaths, life expectancy at birth declined significantly”.

However, Stats SA said: “Whilst the life expectancy at birth indicator is an important health indicator, in this Covid-19 period it should not be interpreted as a projection of an individual’s lifespan, but should rather be used to shed light on the cumulative burden of a crisis compared to recent trends.”

That said, the full impact of the pandemic will only be known as new data becomes available over time, to provide researchers with a better sense of the full impact on South Africa and the world.

Stats SA key findings

Here are the key findings of the mid-year population report:

  • Approximately 51.1% (approximately 30,75 million) of the population is female. 
  • On 5 March 2020, South Africa recorded its first case of Covid-19. By 11 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.
  • South Africa’s first Covid-related death occurred on 27 March 2020. 
  • Life expectancy at birth for 2021 is estimated at 59,3 years for males and 64,6 years for females. 
  • Gauteng still comprises the largest share of the South African population: approximately 15,81 million people (26.3%).
  • KwaZulu-Natal is the province with the second largest population, with an estimated 11,5 million people (19.1%).
  • With a population of approximately 1,30 million people (2.2%), Northern Cape remains the province with the smallest share of the South African population.