Journal Article

Educational differences in disability-free life expectancy: a comparative study of long-standing activity limitation in eight European countries

Mäki, N., Martikainen, P., Eikemo, T. A., Menvielle, G., Lundberg, O., Östergren, O., Jasilionis, D., Mackenbach, J. P.

Social Science and Medicine, 94, 1-8 (2013)


Keywords: Europe, disability, education, life expectancy


Healthy life expectancy is a composite measure of length and quality of life and an important indicator of health in aging populations. There are few cross-country comparisons of socioeconomic differences in healthy life expectancy. Most of the existing comparisons focus on Western Europe and the United States, often relying on older data. To address these deficiencies, we estimated educational differences in disability-free life expectancy for eight countries from all parts of Europe in the early 2000s. Long-standing severe disability was measured as a Global Activity Limitation Indicator (GALI) derived from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) survey. Census-linked mortality data were collected by a recent project comparing health inequalities between European countries (the EURO-GBD-SE project). We calculated sex-specific educational differences in disability-free life expectancy between the ages of 30 and 79 years using the Sullivan method. The lowest disability-free life expectancy was found among Lithuanian men and women (33.1 and 39.1 years, respectively) and the highest among Italian men and women (42.8 and 44.4 years, respectively). Life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy were directly related to the level of education, but the educational differences were much greater in the latter in all countries. The difference in the disability-free life expectancy between those with a primary or lower secondary education and those with a tertiary education was over 10 years for males in Lithuania and approximately 7 years for males in Austria, Finland and France, as well as for females in Lithuania. The difference was smallest in Italy (4 and 2 years among men and women, respectively). Highly educated Europeans can expect to live longer and spend more years in better health than those with lower education. The size of the educational difference in disability-free life expectancy varies significantly between countries. The smallest and largest differences appear to be in Southern Europe and in Eastern and Northern Europe, respectively.