Book Chapter

The social determinants of life expectancy and inequality in lifespan

van Raalte, A. A., Seaman, R. J.
In: Rattan, S. I. S. (Ed.): Encyclopedia of biomedical gerontology, 239–246
Reference module in biomedical sciences -
San Diego, Academic Press (2019)


The social determinants of mortality are the everyday conditions faced by individuals, which are influenced by the societal distribution of power, money and resources. A social gradient to mortality is repeatedly found according to the distribution of income, educational level, occupational class, and wealth, with the most advantaged groups living longer than the least advantaged groups. This article provides an overview of the main theoretical perspectives that link social advantage to greater survivorship. We demonstrate how social gradients change over the life course, and suggest that future theoretical and empirical research should give more attention to these differences. We end by stressing the need to look beyond mean differences in survival by monitoring variation in mortality outcomes.

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.