Journal Article

A distributional approach to measuring lifespan stratification

Population Studies, 77:1, 15–33 (2023)
Open Access


The study of the mortality differences between groups has traditionally focused on metrics that describe average levels of mortality, for example life expectancy and standardized mortality rates. Additional insights can be gained by using statistical distance metrics to examine differences in lifespan distributions between groups. Here, we use a distance metric, the non-overlap index, to capture the sociological concept of stratification, which emphasizes the emergence of unique, hierarchically layered social strata. We show an application using Finnish registration data that cover the entire population over the period from 1996 to 2017. The results indicate that lifespan stratification and life-expectancy differences between income groups both increased substantially from 1996 to 2008; subsequently, life-expectancy differences declined, whereas stratification stagnated for men and increased for women. We conclude that the non-overlap index uncovers a unique domain of inequalities in mortality and helps to capture important between-group differences that conventional approaches miss.

Keywords: life expectancy, measurement, mortality
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.