Background Due to the financial challenges of increasing life expectancy, many industrialised countries are raising state pension eligibility ages (SPA). However, use of average life expectancy to calculate SPA ignores inequalities in health and life expectancy across socio-economic groups.
Methods Data was used from 1 20 552 members of The Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study (LS) who were aged 50–75 at the 2001 census and had information on work status at the 2011 census, or died between 2001 and 2011. First, multinomial logistic regression was used to examine the odds of being dead or not being in work at the 2011 census date, compared to being in paid work, by Registrar General occupational social classes. Then, right-censored linear regression was used to examine mean social class differences in age of stopping work, age of death, and years of life between stopping work and death before aged 85; separately for each outcome. All models were adjusted for gender and self-rated health status in 2001.
Results By the 2011 census date, 12.8% of the sample had died, 66.8% were alive but not working and 20.4% remained in work. Women were less likely to both to die in the next 10 years or to remain in work than men. Gender-adjusted analyses showed that lower social class was associated with earlier mean age of stopping work [unskilled manual vs professional: −2.76 years (95% CI −3.04,–2.48)] and mean age of dying (before aged 85) [−3.92 (-4.56,–3.27)]. Before aged 65, work exit was mostly due to exit from paid employment, rather than mortality; although unskilled workers in this age group were still 1.92 times (1.69,2.19) more likely to die over the 10 year period than professional workers. Most of these differences were explained by health status in 2001. For those who stopped work (n=89,330), gender-adjusted mean differences in time from stopping work to death (before aged 85) were greatest for managerial and skilled non-manual groups [0.76 (0.02,1.50) and 1.01 (0.24,1.77)], compared to professional occupations, with no differences seen for lower social groups. This U-shaped relationship was explained by the combination of higher social class occupations staying in work longer but experiencing lower rates of mortality, and lower social class occupations leaving work at earlier ages but experiencing higher rates of mortality.
Conclusion Lower occupational social groups were both more likely to stop work before state pension age and also could expect less years in receipt of state pension.
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