Journal Article

Multimorbid life expectancy across race, socio-economic status, and sex in South Africa

Lam, A. A., Keenan, K., Myrskylä, M., Kulu, H.
Population Studies, 1–26 (2024)
Open Access


Multimorbidity is increasing globally as populations age. However, it is unclear how long individuals live with multimorbidity and how it varies by social and economic factors. We investigate this in South Africa, whose apartheid history further complicates race, socio-economic, and sex inequalities. We introduce the term ‘multimorbid life expectancy’ (MMLE) to describe the years lived with multimorbidity. Using data from the South African National Income Dynamics Study (2008–17) and incidence-based multistate Markov modelling, we find that females experience higher MMLE than males (17.3 vs 9.8 years), and this disparity is consistent across all race and education groups. MMLE is highest among Asian/Indian people and the post-secondary educated relative to other groups and lowest among African people. These findings suggest there are associations between structural inequalities and MMLE, highlighting the need for health-system and educational policies to be implemented in a way proportional to each group’s level of need.

Keywords: South Africa, inequality, life expectancy
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.