Socioeconomic inequalities in life and health expectancies around official retirement age in 10 Western-European countries
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Background: Discussions on raising pension eligibility age focus more on improvement in life expectancy (LE) and health expectancy measures than on socioeconomic differences in these measures. Therefore, this study assesses the level of socioeconomic differences in these two measures in Western-Europe. Methods: Data from seven annual waves (1995-2001) of the European Community Household Panel were used. Health and socioeconomic information was collected using standardised questionnaires. Health was measured in terms of disability in daily activities. Socioeconomic status was determined as education level at baseline. Multi-state Markov modelling was applied to obtain age-specific transition rates between health states for every country, educational level and gender. The multi-state life table method was used to estimate LE and disability free life expectancy (DFLE) according to country, educational level and gender. Results: When comparing high and low educational levels, differences in partial DFLE between the ages 50 and 65 years were 2.1 years for men and 1.9 years for women. At age 65 years, for LE the difference between high and low educated groups was 3 years for men and 1.9 years for women, and for DFLE the difference between high and low educated groups was 4.6 years for men and 4.4 years for women. Similar patterns were observed in all countries, although inequalities tended to be greater in the southern countries. Conclusions: Educational inequalities, favouring the higher educated, exist on both sides of the retirement eligibility age. Higher educated persons live longer in good health before retirement and can expect to live longer afterwards.