Journal Article

Changes in socioeconomic differentials in old age life expectancy in four Nordic countries: the impact of educational expansion and education-specific mortality

Enroth , L., Jasilionis, D., Németh, L., Strand, B. H., Tanjung, I., Sundberg, L., Fors, S., Jylhä, M., Brønnum-Hansen, H.
European Journal of Ageing, 19:2, 161–173 (2022)
Open Access


Overall progress in life expectancy (LE) depends increasingly on survival in older ages. The birth cohorts now reaching old age have experienced considerable educational expansion, which is a driving force for the social change and social inequality. Thus, this study examines changes in old age LE by educational attainment in the Nordic countries and aims to find out to what extent the change in national LEs is attributable to education-specific mortality and the shifting educational composition. We used national register data comprising total 65 + populations in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden to create period life tables stratified by five-year age groups (65–90 +), sex and educational attainment. Difference in LE between 2001 and 2015 was decomposed into the contributions of mortality changes within each educational group and changes in educational composition. Increasing LE at all ages and in all educational groups coincided with persistent and growing educational inequalities in all countries. Most of the gains in LE at age 65 could be attributed to decreased mortality (63–90%), especially among those with low education, the largest educational group in most countries. The proportion of the increase in LE attributable to improved education was 10–37%, with the highest contributions recorded for women in Norway and Sweden. The rising educational levels in the Nordic countries still carry potential for further gains in national LEs. However, the educational expansion has contributed to uneven gains in LE between education groups, which poses a risk for the future increase of inequalities in LE.

Keywords: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, differential mortality, education, longevity, old age
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.