We develop a new methodology to compute differences in the expected longevity of individuals of a given cohort who are in different socioeconomic groups at a certain age. We address the two main problems associated with the standard use of life expectancy: (1) that people’s socioeconomic characteristics change, and (2) that mortality has decreased over time. Our methodology uncovers substantial heterogeneity in expected longevities, yet much less heterogeneity than what arises from the naive application of life expectancy formulae. We decompose the longevity differences into differences in health at age 50, differences in the evolution of health with age, and differences in mortality conditional on health. Remarkably, education, wealth, and income are health-protecting but have very little impact on two-year mortality rates conditional on health. Married people and nonsmokers, however, benefit directly in their immediate mortality. Finally, we document an increasing time trend of the socioeconomic gradient of longevity in the period 1992–2008, and we predict an increase in the socioeconomic gradient of mortality rates for the coming years.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We are grateful for comments from Pierre-Carl Michaud, Pedro Mira, and Carolyn Wilkins; from attendants to seminars at University of Pennsylvania, Carlos III, and a LAEF conference on Health and Macroeconomics; and from the editor and referees. Inés Berniell provided excellent research assistance. Ríos-Rull thanks the National Science Foundation for Grant SES-1156228. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, or the Federal Reserve System.
© 2014, Population Association of America.
- Cohort life expectancy
- Expected longevity
- Socioeconomic gradient