Economic conditions and life expectancy in Europe, 1900 – 2008

BackgroundIn the past upward shifts in the relation between national income and life expectancy, which were due to rapid diffusion of knowledge and technology for infectious disease control from high‐income to low‐income countries, have contributed importantly to world‐wide increases in life expectancy. This study assessed to what extent life expectancy growth in Europe has been accompanied by upward shifts in the relation between national income and life expectancy in later parts of the 20th century, when progress in cardiovascular disease control was the main driver of life expectancy growth.Data and methodsData on national income (Gross Domestic Product per capita, in 1990 international dollars), life expectancy and cause‐specific mortality covering the period 1900‐2008 were extracted from international data banks. (Change in) life expectancy and age‐standardized mortalitywas regressed on (change in) national income, and the regression parameters were used to estimate the contribution of changes in national income vs. shifts in the relation between national income and health outcomes, based on a method originally developed by Preston.ResultsLarge upward shifts in the relation between national income and life expectancy only occurred before 1960, and were due to rapid declines in mortality from infectious diseases which were independent from rises in national income. These shifts account for betweentwo‐thirds and four‐fifths of the increase in life expectancy in Europe as a whole during this period. After 1960, upward shifts in the relation between national income and life expectancy were much smaller, and contributed only between a quarter and a half to theincrease in life expectancy in Europe as a whole. During the latter period, declines in mortality from cardiovascular disease were strongly associated with increases in national income.ConclusionsIn contrast to earlier periods, recent life expectancy growth in European countries appears to have been dependent on their economic growth. More rapid diffusion of knowledge and technology for cardiovascular disease control from higher to lower income countries in Europe may be needed to close the East‐West life expectancy gap.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is een denktank en kennisnetwerk. Netspar is gericht op een goed geïnformeerd pensioendebat.

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