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Length of life inequality around the globe


  • Smits, Jeroen
  • Monden, Christiaan


Inequality in the distribution of adult length of life - defined as age at death in the population aged 15 and over - is studied for virtually all countries of the world using a new database with over 9000 life tables covering a period of up to two centuries. The data reveal huge variation among countries and time periods in the degree to which the available years of life are distributed equally among the population. Most length of life inequality (about 90%) is within-country inequality. Our findings make clear that measures of length of life inequality should be adjusted for life expectancy to get a more relevant indicator of length of life differentials across populations. At similar levels of life expectancy, substantial differences in inequality are observed, even among highly developed countries. Expressed as premature mortality, inequality may be 35-70% higher in the most unequal countries compared to the most equal ones. Countries that reached a certain level of life expectancy earlier in time than other countries, and countries that improved their life expectancy more quickly than others, experienced higher levels of inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Smits, Jeroen & Monden, Christiaan, 2009. "Length of life inequality around the globe," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(6), pages 1114-1123, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:68:y:2009:i:6:p:1114-1123

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Peter Konings & Sam Harper & John Lynch & Ahmad Hosseinpoor & Dirk Berkvens & Vincent Lorant & Andrea Geckova & Niko Speybroeck, 2010. "Analysis of socioeconomic health inequalities using the concentration index," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 55(1), pages 71-74, February.
    2. Joseph T. Lariscy & Claudia Nau & Glenn Firebaugh & Robert A. Hummer, 2016. "Hispanic-White Differences in Lifespan Variability in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 53(1), pages 215-239, February.
    3. Ryan Edwards, 2013. "The cost of uncertain life span," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(4), pages 1485-1522, October.
    4. repec:spr:soinre:v:140:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11205-017-1764-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:dem:demres:v:41:y:2019:i:4 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:spr:demogr:v:54:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s13524-017-0599-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Duncan Gillespie & Meredith Trotter & Shripad Tuljapurkar, 2014. "Divergence in Age Patterns of Mortality Change Drives International Divergence in Lifespan Inequality," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 51(3), pages 1003-1017, June.
    8. Vladimir M. Shkolnikov & Evgueni M. Andreev & Zhen Zhang & James E. Oeppen & James W. Vaupel, 2009. "Losses of expected lifetime in the US and other developed countries: methods and empirical analyses," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2009-042, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
    9. repec:spr:demogr:v:55:y:2018:i:6:d:10.1007_s13524-018-0729-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Adam Szulc, 2016. "Changing Mortality Distribution In Developed Countries From 1970 To 2010: Looking At Averages And Beyond Them," Statistics in Transition New Series, Polish Statistical Association, vol. 17(3), pages 467-496, September.
    11. Patrick Meyer & Grégory Ponthière, 2016. "Human Lifetime Entropy in a Historical Perspective (1750-2014)," PSE Working Papers halshs-01409679, HAL.
    12. Plümper, Thomas & Neumayer, Eric, 2014. "Income Inequality, Redistribution and their Effect on Inequality in Longevity," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 210, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    13. repec:spr:demogr:v:55:y:2018:i:6:d:10.1007_s13524-018-0718-z is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Michal Engelman & Vladimir Canudas‐Romo & Emily M. Agree, 2010. "The Implications of Increased Survivorship for Mortality Variation in Aging Populations," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 36(3), pages 511-539, September.
    15. O'Connell, Alison, 2014. "Longevity Trends and their Implications for the Age of Eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation," Working Paper Series 3168, Victoria University of Wellington, Chair in Public Finance.
    16. Adam Szulc, 2017. "Weighting Sub-Populations in Longevity Inequality Research: A Practical Approach," Working Papers 2017-029, Warsaw School of Economics, Collegium of Economic Analysis.
    17. Anthony Atkinson, 2011. "On lateral thinking," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 9(3), pages 319-328, September.
    18. Michal Engelman & Hal Caswell & Emily Agree, 2014. "Why do lifespan variability trends for the young and old diverge? A perturbation analysis," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 30(48), pages 1367-1396, May.
    19. Alyson A. van Raalte & Pekka Martikainen & Mikko Myrskylä, 2012. "Lifespan variation by occupational class: compression or stagnation over time?," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2012-010, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
    20. Alyson van Raalte & Mikko Myrskylä & Pekka Martikainen, 2015. "The role of smoking on mortality compression," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 32(20), pages 589-620, February.
    21. José M. Aburto & Alyson A. van Raalte, 2017. "Lifespan dispersion in times of life expectancy fluctuation: the case of Central and Eastern Europe," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2017-018, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
    22. Patrick Meyer & Grégory Ponthiere, 2019. "Threshold Ages for the Relation between Lifetime Entropy and Mortality Risk," Erudite Working Paper 2019-18, Erudite.
    23. Vanesa Jordá & Miguel Niño-Zarazúa, 2017. "Global inequality in length of life: 1950–2015," WIDER Working Paper Series 192, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    24. Hui Zheng & Y. Claire Yang & Kenneth C. Land, 2016. "Age-Specific Variation in Adult Mortality Rates in Developed Countries," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 35(1), pages 49-71, February.
    25. Marie-Pier Bergeron-Boucher & Marcus Ebeling & Vladimir Canudas-Romo, 2015. "Decomposing changes in life expectancy: Compression versus shifting mortality," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 33(14), pages 391-424, September.


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