Lifespan variation by occupational class: compression or stagnation over time?
Adult lifespan variation in most western countries has stagnated since the 1960s, despite continued improvements in longevity. Cross-sectional analyses, however, find that in the 1990s higher socio-economic position was associated with lower lifespan variation. Trends in this association over time are unknown. We investigated trends in lifespan variation over four decades by occupational social class (manual, lower non-manual, upper non-manual) using Finnish register data (1971-2007). We performed age and cause-of-death decompositions of lifespan variation for each sex (a) by occupational class over time and (b) between occupational classes at a shared life expectancy. We found that although all occupational classes experienced increases in life expectancy, manual workers had stagnating lifespan variation over time while the higher occupational groups experienced mortality compression. These differences were caused by diverging trends in early adult mortality: all occupational classes experienced similar trends in lifespan variation at older ages, but variation in early adult mortality increased for all classes except the highest category. The high and stagnant lifespan variation of the manual class was mostly due to higher early adult mortality from external causes. These results suggest that mortality compression can be compatible with increases in life expectancy by tackling inequalities in early adult mortality.
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