Journal Article

Normalized lifespan inequality: disentangling the longevity–lifespan variability nexus

Permanyer, I., Shi, J.
Genus, 78:2, 1–29 (2022)
Open Access


Previous studies have documented a historically strong and negative association between countries’ life expectancy (i.e., average longevity) and length-of-life inequality (i.e., variability in ages at death). The relationship between both variables might be partially explained by life expectancy increasing at a faster pace than maximal length of life, a phenomenon that mechanically compresses the age-at-death distribution and has not been taken into consideration in previous studies. In this paper, we propose a new approach to lifespan inequality measurement that accounts for the (uncertainly) bounded nature of length-of-life. Applying the new approach to the countries of the Human Mortality Database, we observe that the decline in overall lifespan variability typically associated with increases in longevity seems to stop and even reverse at higher levels of life expectancy. This suggests the emergence of worrying ethical dilemmas, whereby higher achievements in longevity would only be possible at the expense of higher lifespan variability.

Keywords: Global, inequality, length of life, life expectancy, 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.