STUDY OBJECTIVE: To study differences in total life expectancy and in occupationally active life expectancy in relation to social class and marital status in men classified as healthy as young adults. DESIGN: Historical cohort study. SETTING: Finland. PARTICIPANTS: Altogether 1662 men classified as completely healthy at the time of induction to military service (mean birth year 1923), who had been selected as referents for a study of former athletes. Mean follow up time was 46 years. MEASUREMENTS: Vital status was determined by follow up through local parish data up to 1990. Mortality data were obtained from the Cause of Death bureau of the Central Statistical Office of Finland. Occurrence of work disability was assessed from nationwide disability pension register data. Mean total life expectancy and mean occupationally active life expectancy (end points disability pension or death before age 65 years) were estimated. Social class was based on the major lifetime occupation, while marital status was classified as "never married" or "ever married" at the end of follow up. MAIN RESULTS: Mean total life expectancy was highest among executives and managers (73.2 (95% confidence interval (CI): 70.3, 76.1) years), next highest in clerical (white collar) workers (72.0 (70.0, 74.1) years), and lowest in unskilled blue collar workers (63.65 (61.1, 66.2) years). Skilled workers and farmers were intermediate. For the occupationally active life expectancy estimates, a similar gradient was observed: highest for executives (61.9 (60.7, 63.1) years) and lowest for the unskilled (52.2 (50.2, 54.2) years). The ratio of occupationally active life expectancy to total life expectancy was highest for executives (85%) and lowest for farmers (81%) and unskilled workers (82%). CONCLUSIONS: The social class gradient known to exist for mortality is also present for occupational disability. Social class and marital status differences in mortality are already evident in early adulthood and continue into old age. Those with the highest life expectancy also have the largest proportion of their life span free of occupationally incapacitating disability.
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