Journal Article

Rise, stagnation, and rise of Danish women’s life expectancy

Lindahl-Jacobsen, R., Rau, R., Jeune, B., Canudas Romo, V., Lenart, A., Christensen, K., Vaupel, J. W.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113:15, 4015-4020 (2016)


Keywords: life expectancy


Health conditions change from year to year, with a general tendency in many countries for improvement. These conditions also change from one birth cohort to another: some generations suffer more adverse events in childhood, smoke more heavily, eat poorer diets, etc., than generations born earlier or later. Because it is difficult to disentangle period effects from cohort effects, demographers, epidemiologists, actuaries, and other population scientists often disagree about cohort effects’ relative importance. In particular, some advocate forecasts of life expectancy based on period trends; others favor forecasts that hinge on cohort differences. We use a combination of age decomposition and exchange of survival probabilities between countries to study the remarkable recent history of female life expectancy in Denmark, a saga of rising, stagnating, and now again rising lifespans. The gap between female life expectancy in Denmark vs. Sweden grew to 3.5 y in the period 1975–2000. When we assumed that Danish women born 1915–1945 had the same survival probabilities as Swedish women, the gap remained small and roughly constant. Hence, the lower Danish life expectancy is caused by these cohorts and is not attributable to period effects.

Keywords: life expectancy; cohort effects; period effects; decomposition; interwar Danish women