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Aging in good health: the inequalities are widening

Life expectancy is increasing, but it does not necessarily mean more time in good health. NCCR LIVES researchers affiliated with the University of Geneva have taken an interest in this evolution and have compiled data from the Swiss National Cohort (SNC) with those from the Swiss Health Surveys. The results of their study show that while years of good health are increasing for both men and women, there are differences according to education level, increasing social inequalities. Thus, in 2010, men with a university degree live 8.8 years longer in good health than those with compulsory education, compared to 7.6 years in 1990.

Five researchers from the University of Geneva, four of whom are members of the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES - Overcoming Vulnerability: A Life-Course Perspective, crossed data from the Swiss National Cohort (SNC) with data from the Swiss Health Surveys between 1990 and 2015 to determine whether the years gained in life expectancy had added time to health or disease. 

Women continue to live longer than men and have added 3 years to their healthy life expectancy. But in their case, continuing this longitudinal research is all the more important because social codes and their way of life have changed much more than for men. "The gap between women with secondary and tertiary education is indistinguishable here, because our data concern women born in the 1920s and 1930s, when access to higher education was limited and few worked. It would be interesting to repeat this survey in 50 years, now that women are studying and working just as much as men," notes Stéphane Cullati.

Men earn 5 years of life, of which 4.5 years are in good health. But the most important differences are in the levels of training. The example of men who have completed mandatory training is telling. "The gap in healthy years between men with compulsory education and men with tertiary education is 7.6 years in 1990, but 8.8 years in 2010, showing that the gap is widening," explains Adrien Remund, demographer. 

Graphiques: Life expectancy (LE), Healthy life expectancy (HLE), and Years of bad health (YBH) with 95% confidence intervals by education level and sex (Swiss National Cohort and Swiss Health Interview Survey, Switzerland, 1990–2014).