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An investigation into inequalities in adult lifespan

Mayhew, L. ORCID: 0000-0002-0380-1757 & Smith, D. ORCID: 0000-0001-6642-8884 (2019). An investigation into inequalities in adult lifespan. North American Actuarial Journal, 25(sup1), S545-S565. doi: 10.1080/10920277.2019.1671874


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 cite evidence that the reduction in inequalities in age at death was due to significant improvements in the health and condition of the population through better housing, sanitation, mass vaccination, occupational health, clearer air and other public health improvements which disproportionately improved the lives of the poorest in society relative to the wealthiest. 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 much more likely to be from chronic rather than infectious diseases or environmental causes. Since chronic disease is often attributable to life choices such as smoking and diet, we maintain that the blame for the widening must be laid increasingly at the door of individual lifestyles rather than ambient risks and hazards.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in North American Actuarial Journal on 20 Nov 2018, available online:
Publisher Keywords: Life expectancy, lifespan, inequalities, gender, historical trend
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Departments: Bayes Business School > Actuarial Science & Insurance
SWORD Depositor:
[thumbnail of An investigation into inequalities in adult lifespan_final_June_2018_Mayhew_Smith_library deposit (002).pdf]
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