Lives on the Line: Life Expectancy and Child Poverty as a Tube Map

Maps have always been a powerful way of  highlighting London’s social inequalities (Charles Booth‘s and John Snow‘s are the most iconic examples of this) and they continue to show how the richest and poorest Londoners often live side by side.  As the BBC’s “The Secret History of Our Streets” has demonstrated, stark inequalities in the wealth and health of Londoners have existed for centuries and, sadly, persist to the present day. A popular way of describing some of the inequalities is to use the analogy that a year in life expectancy is lost for every station eastbound on the Jubilee Line between Westminster and Canning Town. Since first hearing this a few years ago I have wanted to make a map for the rest of the Transport for London network. I have finally done this and you can view the interactive version here and read a more in depth article in the journal Environment and Planning A.

The map shows two key statistics: 1) the life expectancy at birth of those living around each London Underground, London Overground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) station and 2) the rank of each London ward on the spectrum of Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI). The inclusion of the IDACI rank highlights the linkage between deprivation and life expectancy, which is especially poignant in this context as it demonstrates that, without significant social change (obviously, if the social composition of London changes radically then the life expectancies at each station will change with it), the fates of many children living in the poorest parts of London are seemingly already sealed.

Whilst the average life expectancy predictions show that today’s children are expected to live longer, the range is startling. For the stations mapped, it is over 20 years with those around Star Lane (on the DLR) predicted to live, on average, for 75.3 years in contrast to 96.38 years for those around Oxford Circus. The smaller disparities are no less striking. For example, between Lancaster Gate and Mile End (20 minutes on the Central line) life expectancy decreases by 12 years and crossing the Thames between Pimlico and Vauxhall sees life expectancy drop by 6 years. The stations serving the Olympic Park fair badly and contrast with the Olympic volleyball venue at Earl’s Court whose spectators will be passing through areas with far higher life expectancies and lower child poverty

When designing this map it was my intention to create a memorable impression of the persistent inequalities along (and between) the routes travelled by millions of Londoners each day. I also hope it provides another way of further communicating such inequalities in these uncertain economic times. For more information on these issues Benjamin Hennig and Danny Dorling have written a much more detailed piece on the inequalities in modern London here.

If you want to use the map in any publications please refer to it as: Cheshire, J. 2012. Lives on the Line: Mapping Life Expectancy Along the London Tube Network. Environment and Planning A. 44 (7). Doi: 10.1068/a45341.

You can read an ONS report on Life Expectancy at Birth data here.

Making the Map

The life expectancy data exist for each ward in London. To transfer the ward-level values to each station a circle with a 200m radius was first drawn around them. If this circle overlaps no other wards then that single rounded value is used for the station. If it overlaps multiple wards then an average is used. The 200m radius was a pragmatic way of accounting for the stations bordering two or more wards. It also served to ensure the resulting life expectancy was reflective of the stations surrounding population, rather than a single geographic unit that may differ markedly from its neighbours. All values were rounded for simplicity. There is an option on the interactive map to view the actual ward life expectancies as a base map. The process is shown below.



    1. James Author

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the comment- I wanted to keep the map to within the greater london area because it was originally designed for print and to get the entire central line in there (and met. line for that matter) would mean loads of white space. Sorry about that.

      1. Keith Schrod

        The map is an interesting idea and I agree it is in a format people can easily relate to.
        However, picking up on your comment that you restricted the map to Greater London: you go all the way west to Hounslow but you stop east at Dagenham. Greater London does not stop at Dagenham! As always, the forgotten LONDON borough of Havering with 4 stops on the District Line is ignored. Elm Park, Hornchuch, Upminster Bridge and Upminster should be there. Or did you omit them because they would inconveniently rebut your conclusion that you lose life expectancy the further east you travel from Westminster?

        1. James Author

          Hi Keith,

          I grew up in Southend and commuted from there for two years so I am well aware of Havering and also the relative wealth of Upminster. A key motivation for making the map was to show that the East/West split (often used in Tube map analogies) is too simplistic. I am afraid the only reason for cutting them out is cartographic. If i get the chance I will fill in the gaps (and maybe throw the C2C line in for good measure). I am not out to push any particular political or social agenda nor am I out to be selective in what I do and don’t include to deceive people. My primary purpose (and it seems to have worked) is to make maps of statistics more relevant to people (and increase their awareness of them).

    2. M

      I live in a housing association (Peabody) in the Bond Street area where I guarantee you life expectancy is fairly low – Well, I have never seen anyone over 80 on my Peabody estate. So therefore, there must be a lot of wealthy people surrounding Peabody in Mayfair who live 100+ probably, who knows? I can conclude that the life expectancy map is not very accurate because no.1 there is vast inequalities that exist in central London-not very representative of the local people (even to ward level)…

  1. Steve QMUL

    Great map – given that many people live longer with illness these day and that this has a strong social gradient I wonder if you would find a starker correlation if you used healthy life expectancy. Especially true if you correlated this with IMD. Would be great to see..

  2. Robert E

    Presumably this primarily shows lack of social mobility or lack of change in the social position of each ward over an extended period? The life expectancy is primarily reflecting people born a long time ago. The child poverty is current. The correlation shows that nothing has changed. Lewisham, wheree i was brought up, has been poor for a century. Hampstead, where I was born, has always been a select suburb. Or have I missed something? You don’t see the change in character of suburbs over long periods that I see in Melbourne where I now live.

    1. James Author

      Hi Robert,

      The data are life expectancy at birth so they show how long people are expected to live who were born in the past few years. This is partly why some of the values are quite high. It reflects current mortality etc as the predictions are based on current data. Maybe I should have made this clearer.



  3. Peter W

    The map shows life expectancy of those living around stations today, not the life expectancy of ‘newborns’ living there. To a large extent it reflects the current age structure of the city. For example, many central and west London areas have ageing populations, so a high proportion are already on their way to achieving long life (those that haven’t have sadly departed already!). In areas of east London, with much younger populations, life expoectancy is certainly affected by social deprivation, but they haven’t yet had the chance to try it out in real life!

  4. Martin

    I could spend hours studying this. Intrigued as to why Upton Park appears to buck the East London downward trend. Does watching West Ham United add years to your life – or does it just feel like it? And I speak as a lifelong Hammers fan (not 82 yet).

  5. Rich H

    The study makes the point that successful people with money can afford better healthcare and later in life that means blood pressure medicines and cholesterol drugs. Those with less funds tend to have more stressful lives as they tend to perform more physical labour.
    What the study misses is the fact that the shortest life span listed is 75 YEARS! Not that long ago it was well under 60. And if you maintain the status quo, next century the poorest of us will likely get to see their 100th birthday. Why? Because science advances when wealthy people invest in it.
    This presentation of this study is skewed and only useful to promote class warfare.

  6. Matt

    Curious as to why you inverted the color scheme between the two data sets (i.e. white = good for poverty, bad for lifespan). Surely it would have been simpler to have white = best or worst for both?

  7. Ken Mills

    Great idea for stimulating discussion, especially about the data .Which “average” have you used? Afraid this will be used by misleading media and politicians again – current life expectancy for adults is nowhere near the hi-line figures shown: eg Foleshill in Coventry has male life expectancy of 63 years. Could the “current adult” data be shown?
    I’m not sure what you mean by “those living around the stations today”. Surely those who chose to live around the stations are the ones who can afford the higher rents charged closer to the stations.

    1. James Author

      Thanks for the comment Ken.
      First up when I say “those living around the station..” I mean in the surrounding Wards so not just those immediately adjacent to the stations. You are right though that is is often the case that relative affluence follows the transport network. You can see if it has a big effect by clicking the “switch to life expectancy” button on the top right of the map.

      As for the age values you are correct that the highest seem a bit high. This relates to the way the stats are calculated (see Peter’s comment) and the way that they can be inflated slightly if a lot of adults people are in that place. In parts of Central London this is invariably the case. I took the view that the patterns (ie the highs and lows) are not misleading and that the Tube map is such a common analogy for this type of thing so the production of the map would at least generate interest and, most importantly as you say, discussion.

  8. I’m afraid that I’m deeply unconvinced.

    You seem to be missing that populations are both socially and geographically mobile over their lifespans.

    Just as an example: Bournemouth has one of the highest average lifespans in the country. No one at all thinks that this is because Bournemouth is uniquely healthy. Rather, people retire there. So the population is self-selecting for those who are already old and thus have a greater than population average expected lifetime.

    Or another way to put it: those who die in Mile End may well be poor. That does not mean that those born there will be poor and not move out of Mile End.

    1. James Author

      Thanks for letting me know about this (I hate when people critique my work without telling me). Feel free to use some images from the map to illustrate your points. I don’t disagree with what you have said and I alluded to some of your points (perhaps not strongly enough though) when I said that “obviously, if the social composition of London changes radically then the life expectancies at each station will change with it”. It is the nature of aggregate statistics that they are a compromise- ie they don’t reflect individuals. I realise that people will move- especially in a city like London- but I would suggest their movements are constrained by economic (dis)advantage so the likelihood that people (and their children) living in an area of significant wealth moving to one that is extremely deprived and vice versa is pretty low. I selected the life expectancy statistics (rather than other social measures) because they reflect many aspects of people’s lives. I accept the values are a little on the high side in parts of central London due to the relatively small areas over which the statistic was calculated but I still think it is an improvement maps that have gone before. It was my intention to stimulate discussion about representing these and other demographic stats (I didn’t have to make it available online-I could have kept it in the journal) and I hope I have been transparent about the methods and datasources even if my interpretation can (happily) be debated.

  9. Nash

    Why count only a 200m radius around the station? This skews your results in several, important ways. For many central London areas showing the highest values, would your sample sizes not be subject to high error due to small populations of residents within such a confined radius? Oxford Circus for example – how many people live within 200m of the place?

    Please release your numerical data so that we can evaluate and interpret the interesting results of your study.

  10. SP

    Like the idea. But a lefe expectancy around Oxford Circus of 96? Not many places in the world achieve that. Who lives there? I can’t really remember but it is not particulalry residential, is it?
    Also, of course people live in South East London. all the way to Orpington and Bexleyheath, despite the lack of Tubes. May have to break the methodology and use train stations.
    Journal of Maps could be interested, although it just went non-open access I think.

  11. Its always useful to present statistics in novel and visual methods such as your tube map. Display of two statistics with one symbol is an indication of careful thought. The goal being that the average viewer or reader “gets it” with little effort.

    I would caution viewers that spatial analysis using statistics creates problems in that the wrong measure can give the right answer and the right measure a wrong answer.

    Circle around stations are not the same as centroids of census areas or bands surrounding rivers.

    Whatever you measure needs to be collected and cataloged correctly.

    If you want to study cancer risk from waterways, one would have to have individual, not aggregate measures for each data point along with spatial coordinates for each member in the study. Then a distance associated measure makes sense subject to a sufficiently large sample size (another issue related to spatial analysis.

    Kudos to your team

  12. KH

    I was curious about the Oxford Circus number, which has gotten a lot of attention. If I understand it right, this should mainly reflect the period life expectancy for West End Ward, Westminster. (I am not a Londoner; please correct me if I’m wrong)

    In the original Ward-level calculations, it appears that West End has a 2005-2009 period life expectancy of about 93 for males, 99 for females, which seems to match the 96 in the map. But the confidence intervals are very large. More curiously, the 2004-2008 period life expectancy is 81/84. That is a huge difference arising from shifting the period by one year!

    I would guess this is mainly due to sampling error/small sample issues, with residential mobility perhaps playing a role. In any case I’d argue you need to (a) understand what period life expectancy is and isn’t (per a previous commenter) and (b) be conscious of sampling variability and data quality.

  13. Jennifer Galler

    Hi there,

    I lived at Tottenham Court Road for a year and a half [2010-2011] and never saw ANY children there or at Oxford Circus. I also never saw any people aged over 80 in either of these places…so where are these people you are counting…? Like others I really would like to know exactly how many people have lived until their death at Oxford Circus?

    1. James Author

      Thank Eldan for doing that post I think it is a fair overview of some of the uncertainties associated with these types of data. I may write a follow-up post on the map that takes into account many people’s comments.

  14. Renata

    Fascinating. I’ve come to this as a non-statistician who read about your Twitter map in Metro. Though born a West Londoner I’ve been an East Ender for the past dozen years or so. I seem to have increased my life expectancy massively. The figure of 88 for Shadwell is especially surprising, given its current and historic poverty (dark blue to black on Booth). Any explanations?

Comments are closed.