May 19, 2017 | News | New Publication

You live longer in the outskirts

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Hardly anywhere in the world do people live longer than in Switzerland (except for the Japanese, who on average get older). But Switzerland’s life expectancy varies, pending on where people live. MPIDR-researcher Mathias Lerch together with researchers from the University of Geneva has now looked at the reasons.

Life expectancy is not the same throughout a country. For a long time, cities had a higher life expectancy than rural areas, the result of better health care provision. But these differences have gradually converged over the last century. Since the 1980s, rural longevity has been climbing drastically, in particular so in the suburban belts of large cities. Indeed, so much so that peri-urban folks today even get older than their city or urban peers. These are findings of a study by MPIDR-researcher Mathias Lerch and published in the publication series of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office in 2012. At that time, he did not dive into the reasons for these disparities, but has done so now in a new study.

Experts are discussing two possible settings that may account for  these disparities (which are, incidentally, also observed in other countries): Inner cities have worse environmental conditions (i.e. air and noise pollution), and this possibly explains why men and women living downtown on average die two years resp. one year earlier than their counterparts in the affluent city suburbs. The other setting is differences between rural areas, inner cities, and their peripheries in population structure and socio-economic environment. Which of these settings apply was unknown – to date.

Mathias Lerch and colleagues have looked at which of the two settings apply to major cities in Switzerland. In his study, soon to be published in the learned journal Population, the demographer shows that it is not environmental conditions but population structures that make for these disparities. Population structures have changed because certain population groups increasingly decided for a life in the outskirts of large cities. "It is especially the better educated, the more affluent as well as families who leave for the city’s fringes," says the researcher. And these are exactly the population groups that have an especially healthy life style, something we know from other studies.

"In all industrial countries, these groups have higher survival chances than the average," explains Mathias Lerch. It is exactly the other way round with poorer population groups. "Poorer people on average always have a lower life expectancy than affluent ones,” says the researcher. The city’s share of poorer people is growing because the more affluent people leave the cities, thus life-expectancy in the cities is decreasing.

More Information

Periurbanization and the Transformation of the Urban Mortality Gradient in Switzerland, Population, English edition, Volume 72, Number 1, 2017, pp. 93-122

Im städtischen Speckgürtel lebt man länger, Article about Mathias Lerchs research in the Neuen Züricher Zeitung, May 12, 2017 (in German)


The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.