In demographic and public health research, the population health is most often summarized by the life expectancy at birth. Rarely is the variation around this average indicated. This can mask important differences in the shape of the lifespan distribution. In this thesis I aimed to undertake a comprehensive study of the variation in human lifespans. More specifically I set out to answer the following research questions: (1) What is the most appropriate way to measure variation in age-at-death? (2) What is the relationship between lifespan variation and life expectancy? (3) How much are educational differences contributing to lifespan variation? The data used in this thesis came from two sources: the Human Mortality Database and the Eurothine data set. The results of this thesis confirmed that there is no one appropriate method to measure lifespan variation. However, indices can disagree in their sensitivity to change in age specific mortality. In sections II and III it was shown that countries and educational subgroups with low life expectancy also tended to have higher lifespan variation. Although a close association existed between the two summary measures, some countries and populations had high lifespan variation for their life expectancy, owing to considerably higher levels of premature mortality. In general between-group educational differences in mortality accounted for around 1-10 percent of the total lifespan variation in Europe. Policies should be designed to address the high levels of premature mortality, particularly in vulnerable groups, in order to increase the equality between individuals in their length of life.

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Erasmus MC Rotterdam
J.P. Mackenbach (Johan) , J.W. Vaupel
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

van Raalte, A. (2011, April 20). Lifespan variation: Methods, trends and the role of socioeconomic inequality. Retrieved from