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Research report
Socioeconomic inequalities in life and health expectancies around official retirement age in 10 Western-European countries
  1. I M Majer,
  2. W J Nusselder,
  3. J P Mackenbach,
  4. A E Kunst
  1. Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC—University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to I M Majer, Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC – University Medical Center Rotterdam, PO Box 2040, 3000 CA Rotterdam, the Netherlands; i.majer{at}


Background Discussions on raising pension eligibility age focus more on improvement in life expectancy (LE) and health expectancy measures than on socioeconomic differences in these measures. Therefore, this study assesses the level of socioeconomic differences in these two measures in Western-Europe.

Methods Data from seven annual waves (1995–2001) of the European Community Household Panel were used. Health and socioeconomic information was collected using standardised questionnaires. Health was measured in terms of disability in daily activities. Socioeconomic status was determined as education level at baseline. Multi-state Markov modelling was applied to obtain age-specific transition rates between health states for every country, educational level and gender. The multi-state life table method was used to estimate LE and disability free life expectancy (DFLE) according to country, educational level and gender.

Results When comparing high and low educational levels, differences in partial DFLE between the ages 50 and 65 years were 2.1 years for men and 1.9 years for women. At age 65 years, for LE the difference between high and low educated groups was 3 years for men and 1.9 years for women, and for DFLE the difference between high and low educated groups was 4.6 years for men and 4.4 years for women. Similar patterns were observed in all countries, although inequalities tended to be greater in the southern countries.

Conclusions Educational inequalities, favouring the higher educated, exist on both sides of the retirement eligibility age. Higher educated persons live longer in good health before retirement and can expect to live longer afterwards.

  • Population ageing
  • life expectancy
  • disability-free life expectancy
  • socio-economic status
  • ageing RB
  • disability SI
  • economics (HLTH) FQ
  • education FQ

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  • Funding This work was supported by MicMac: an international research project funded by the European Commission in the context of the Sixth Framework Programme (grant number: SP23-CT-2005-006637). The funding organisation did not participate in the design and conduct of the study, collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review or approval of the manuscript. This study was also part of the project ‘Living longer in good health’, which was financially supported by Netspar (grant number: 2007.3900.027).

  • Competing interests None.

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