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Inequalities in health expectancies at older ages in the European Union: findings from the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe (SHARE)
  1. Carol Jagger1,2,
  2. Claire Weston2,
  3. Emmanuelle Cambois3,
  4. Herman Van Oyen4,
  5. Wilma Nusselder5,
  6. Gabriele Doblhammer6,
  7. Jitka Rychtarikova7,
  8. Jean-Marie Robine8,
  9. the EHLEIS team9
  1. 1Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
  3. 3French Institute for Demographic Studies, INED, Paris, France
  4. 4Scientific Institute of Public Health, Brussels, Belgium
  5. 5Erasmus Medical Center, University Medical Center Rotterdam, the Netherlands
  6. 6Rostock University, Rostock, Germany
  7. 7Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
  8. 8French Institute of Health and Medical Research, INSERM, Montpellier, France
  9. 9
  1. Correspondence to Carol Jagger, AXA Professor of Epidemiology of Ageing, Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Campus for Ageing and Vitality, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 5PL, UK; carol.jagger{at}


Background Life expectancy gaps between Eastern and Western Europe are well reported with even larger variations in healthy life years (HLY).

Aims To compare European countries with respect to a wide range of health expectancies based on more specific measures that cover the disablement process in order to better understand previous inequalities.

Methods Health expectancies at age 50 by gender and country using Sullivan's method were calculated from the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe Wave 2, conducted in 2006 in 13 countries, including two from Eastern Europe (Poland, the Czech Republic). Health measures included co-morbidity, physical functional limitations (PFL), activity restriction, difficulty with instrumental and basic activities of daily living (ADL), and self-perceived health. Cluster analysis was performed to compare countries with respect to life expectancy at age 50 (LE50) and health expectancies at age 50 for men and women.

Results In 2006 the gaps in LE50 between countries were 6.1 years for men and 4.1 years for women. Poland consistently had the lowest health expectancies, however measured, and Switzerland the greatest. Polish women aged 50 could expect 7.4 years fewer free of PFL, 6.2 years fewer HLY, 5.5 years less without ADL restriction and 9.5 years less in good self-perceived health than the main group of countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden).

Conclusions Substantial inequalities between countries were evident on all health expectancies. However, these differed across the disablement process which could indicate environmental, technological, healthcare or other factors that may delay progression from disease to disability.

  • Eastern Europe
  • health expectancy
  • pop health indicator

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  • Funding This work was supported by the European Public Health Programme (EHLEIS Project Grant Number 2006 109). SHARE data collection in 2004–07 was primarily funded by the European Commission through its 5th and 6th framework programmes (project numbers QLK6-CT-2001- 00360; RII-CT- 2006-062193; CIT5-CT-2005-028857). Additional funding by the US National Institute on Ageing (grant numbers U01 AG09740-13S2; P01 AG005842; P01 AG08291; P30 AG12815; Y1-AG-4553-01; OGHA 04-064; R21 AG025169) as well as by various national sources is gratefully acknowledged (see for a full list of funding institutions). These funding organisations did not participate in the analysis, interpretation of the data, or preparation, review and approval of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.