Socioeconomic disparities in life expectancy gains among retired German men, 1997-2016

Wenau, G., Grigoriev, P., Shkolnikov, V. M.

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2019)


Schlagworte: Germany, mortality trends, pensioners, socio-economic status, unemployment


Background Although estimates of socioeconomic mortality disparities in Germany exist, the trends in these disparities since the 1990s are still unknown. This study examines mortality trends across socioeconomic groups since the late 1990s among retired German men aged 65 and above.

Methods Large administrative data sets were used to estimate mortality among retired German men, grouped according to their working-life biographies. The data covered the years 1997–2016 and included more than 84.1 million person-years and 4.3 million deaths. Individual pension entitlements served as a measure of lifetime income. Changes in total life expectancy at age 65 over time were decomposed into effects of group-specific mortality improvements and effects of compositional change.

Results Over the two decades studied, male mortality declined in all income groups in both German regions. As mortality improved more rapidly among higher status groups, the social gradient in mortality widened. Since 1997, the distribution of pension entitlements of retired East German men has shifted substantially downwards. As a result, the impact of the most disadvantaged group on total mortality has increased and has partly attenuated the overall improvement.

Conclusion Our results demonstrate that socioeconomic deprivation has substantial effects on levels of mortality in postreunification Germany. While East German retirees initially profited from the transition to the West German pension system, subsequent cohorts had to face challenges associated with the transition to the market economy. The results suggest that postreunification unemployment and status decline had delayed effects on old-age mortality in East Germany.