Journal Article

Why did Danish women’s life expectancy stagnate? The influence of interwar generations' smoking behaviour

Lindahl-Jacobsen, R., Oeppen, J. E., Rizzi, S., Möller, S., Zarulli, V., Christensen, K., Vaupel, J. W.

European Journal of Epidemiology, 31:12, 1207-1211 (2016)


Keywords: life expectancy, mortality, smoking


The general health status of a population changes over time, generally in a positive direction. Some generations experience more unfavourable conditions than others. The health of Danish women in the interwar generations is an example of such a phenomenon. The stagnation in their life expectancy between 1977 and 1995 is thought to be related to their smoking behaviour. So far, no study has measured the absolute effect of smoking on the mortality of the interwar generations of Danish women and thus the stagnation in Danish women’s life expectancy. We applied a method to estimate age-specific smoking-attributable number of deaths to examine the effect of smoking on the trends in partial life expectancy of Danish women between age 50 and 85 from 1950 to 2012. We compared these trends to those for women in Sweden, where there was no similar stagnation in life expectancy. When smoking-attributable mortality was excluded, the gap in partial life expectancy at age 50 between Swedish and Danish women diminished substantially. The effect was most pronounced in the interwar generations. The major reason for the stagnation in Danish women’s partial life expectancy at age 50 was found to be smoking-related mortality in the interwar generations.

Keywords: Life expectancy; Smoking; Interwar Danish women; Cohort effects; Age decomposition; Mortality