Journal Article

Lifespan variation by occupational class: compression or stagnation over time?


Cross-sectional analyses of adult lifespan variation have found an inverse association between socio-economic position and lifespan variation, but the trends by social class are unknown. We investigated trends in lifespan variation over four decades (1971-2010) by occupational social class (manual, lower non-manual, upper non-manual) using Finnish register data. We performed age and cause-of-death decompositions of lifespan variation for each sex (a) by occupational class over time and (b) between occupational classes at a shared level of life expectancy. Although life expectancy increased in all classes, lifespan variation was stable among manual workers and decreased only among non-manual classes. These differences were caused by early adult mortality: older-age lifespan variation declined for all the classes but variation in early adult mortality increased for all classes except the highest. The manual class’ high and stagnant lifespan variation was driven by declines in circulatory diseases that were equally spread over early mortality-compressing and older mortality-expanding ages, and by high early adult mortality from external causes. Results were similar for men and women. These results are the first documenting trends in lifespan variation by social class and suggest that mortality compression is compatible with increasing life expectancy, but currently achieved only by higher occupational classes.
Keywords: Finland, adult mortality, age distribution, causes of death, mortality trends, socio-economic differentials
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