More variation in lifespan in lower educated groups: evidence from 10 European countries

Alyson Van Raalte, Anton Kunst, Patrick Deboosere, Leinsalu Mall, Olle Lundberg, Pekka Martikainen, Bjorn Heine Strand, B. Artnik, Bogdan Wojtyniak, J. Mackenbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

64 Citations (Scopus)


Background: While it is well established that people with a lower socioeconomic position have a shorter average lifespan, it is less clear what the variability surrounding these averages is. We set out to examine whether lower educated groups face greater variation in lifespans in addition to having a shorter life expectancy, in order to identify entry-points for policies to reduce the impact of socioeconomic position on mortality.

Methods: We used harmonized, census-based mortality data from 10 European countries to construct life tables by sex and educational level (low, medium, high). Variation in lifespans was measured by the standard deviation conditional upon survival to age 35. We also decomposed differences between educational groups in lifespan variation by age and cause of death.

Results: Lifespan variation was higher among the lower educated in every country, but more so among men and in Eastern Europe. Although there was an inverse relationship between average life expectancy and its standard deviation, the first did not completely predict the latter. Greater lifespan variation in lower educated groups was largely driven by conditions causing death at younger ages, such as injuries and neoplasms.

Conclusions: Lower educated individuals not only have shorter life expectancies, but also face greater uncertainty about the age at which they will die. More priority should be given to efforts to reduce the risk of an early death among the lower educated, e.g. by strengthening protective policies within and outside the health care system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1703-1714
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • lifespan variation
  • life expectancy
  • socioeconomic inequality
  • education
  • international variation
  • mortality


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