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Socioeconomic status and the expectation of disability in old age: estimates for England
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  1. The Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (MRC CFAS) writing committee:,
  2. David Melzera,
  3. Brenda McWilliamsa,
  4. Carol Braynea,
  5. Tony Johnsonc,
  6. John Bondb
  1. aDepartment of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, bCentre for Health Services Research, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, cMedical Research Council Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge
  1. Dr Melzer, Institute of Public Health, Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge, CB2 2SR

Abstract

OBJECTIVES The longer life expectancy in old age of more privileged socioeconomic groups is well established, but less clear is whether the net effect of additional years of life is a lengthened, stable or reduced duration of disability. Estimates of healthy and disabled life expectancy (using definitions including dependency in activities of daily living and cognitive impairment) were made, contrasting occupational classes I and II (professional and managerial) with the rest.

DESIGN Disability prevalence was estimated from the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing study. Sullivan's method was used to calculate health expectancy.

SUBJECTS 10 377 people aged 65 years or over in Cambridgeshire, Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford. Subjects were classified as disabled if they had evidence of dementia (using the Automated Geriatric Examination Computer Assisted Taxonomy) or scored 11 or more on the modified Townsend Disability scale, at baseline screen.

RESULTS The prevalence of disability overall and need for “constant care” was lower in both men and women in social classes I and II compared with the rest. Men aged 65 to 69 in classes I and II can expect nearly 14 years of life free of disability compared with 11.5 years for those in classes III to V: for women the equivalent expectations are 15.5 and 13.8 years. Men aged 65 to 69 in classes I and II can also expect a shorter duration of disability: 1 year compared with 1.6 years for classes III to V. In women expectation of disability is higher overall, but shows little difference by occupational class.

CONCLUSIONS Relatively privileged socioeconomic groups in England, especially men, can expect fewer years of disability despite longer overall life expectancy. These findings lend weight to optimistic scenarios for the future numbers of older people with disability.

  • healthy life expectancy
  • aging
  • disability

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Footnotes

  • Funding: the MRC CFAS study was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health. The analyses reported were funded by a grant from the Anglia and Oxford R&D programme.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.

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