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An investigation into inequalities in adult lifespan

Mayhew, L. & Smith, D. (2016). An investigation into inequalities in adult lifespan. UK: International Longevity Centre- UK.


People in the UK are living longer than ever but the gap between the oldest and shortest lived appears to be increasing. Based on data from the Human Mortality Database we measure the differences in age between the first 10% of adult deaths and the top 5% of survivors. We find that in the period from 1879 to 1939 this gap steadily closed. We argue that this reduction in inequalities in age at death was due to the benefits of clean drinking water, mass vaccination and other public health improvements which were available to everyone but which improvements were disproportionately shared by the poor relative to the rich. Although life expectancy continued to rise after 1950, the inequality gap remained roughly constant and in recent years has started to widen again – more so for men than for women. A key difference between pre-1939 and now is that deaths are increasingly from chronic rather than infectious diseases or environmental causes. Since chronic disease is often attributable to life choices such as smoking and diet, the blame for the widening must be laid increasingly at the door of individual lifestyles rather than ambient risks and hazards.

Publication Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Publisher Keywords: Life expectancy, lifespan, inequalities, gender, historical trend
Departments: Bayes Business School > Actuarial Science & Insurance
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