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Trends in World Inequality in Life Span Since 1970

  • Ryan D. Edwards

Previous research has revealed much global convergence over the past several decades in life expectancy at birth and in infant mortality, which are closely linked. But trends in the variance of length of life, and in the variance of length of adult life in particular, are less well understood. I examine life-span inequality in a broad, balanced panel of 180 rich and poor countries observed in 1970 and 2000. Convergence in infant mortality has unambiguously reduced world inequality in total length of life starting from birth, but world inequality in length of adult life has remained stagnant. Underlying both of these trends is a growing share of total inequality that is attributable to between-country variation. Especially among developed countries, the absolute level of between-country inequality has risen over time. The sources of widening inequality in length of life between countries remain unclear, but signs point away from trends in income, leaving patterns of knowledge diffusion as a potential candidate.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16088.

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Date of creation: Jun 2010
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Publication status: published as Edwards, Ryan D. (2011) "Trends in World Inequality in Life Span Since 1970," Population and Development Review 37(3): 499-528.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16088
Note: AG HE
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  1. Randa Sab & Stephen C. Smith, 2002. "Human Capital Convergence: A Joint Estimation Approach," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 49(2), pages 3.
  2. Crespo Cuaresma, Jesus, 2006. "Convergence of educational attainment levels in the OECD: More data, more problems?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 173-178, April.
  3. Ram, Rati, 2006. "State of the "life span revolution" between 1980 and 2000," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 518-526, August.
  4. Ryan D. Edwards, 2008. "The Cost of Uncertain Life Span," NBER Working Papers 14093, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Gary S. Becker & Tomas J. Philipson & Rodrigo R. Soares, 2005. "The Quantity and Quality of Life and the Evolution of World Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 277-291, March.
  6. De Gregorio, Jose & Lee, Jong-Wha, 2002. "Education and Income Inequality: New Evidence from Cross-Country Data," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 48(3), pages 395-416, September.
  7. repec:dgr:uvatin:20010091 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Barro, Robert J & Lee, Jong-Wha, 2001. "International Data on Educational Attainment: Updates and Implications," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 53(3), pages 541-63, July.
  9. Shripad Tuljapurkar & Ryan D. Edwards, 2011. "Variance in death and its implications for modeling and forecasting mortality," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 24(21), pages 497-526, March.
  10. Ryan D. Edwards & Shripad Tuljapurkar, 2005. "Inequality in Life Spans and a New Perspective on Mortality Convergence Across Industrialized Countries," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 31(4), pages 645-674.
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