NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Trends in World Inequality in Life Span Since 1970

Ryan D. Edwards

NBER Working Paper No. 16088
Issued in June 2010
NBER Program(s):   AG   HE

Previous research has revealed much global convergence over the past several decades in life expectancy at birth and in infant mortality, which are closely linked. But trends in the variance of length of life, and in the variance of length of adult life in particular, are less well understood. I examine life-span inequality in a broad, balanced panel of 180 rich and poor countries observed in 1970 and 2000. Convergence in infant mortality has unambiguously reduced world inequality in total length of life starting from birth, but world inequality in length of adult life has remained stagnant. Underlying both of these trends is a growing share of total inequality that is attributable to between-country variation. Especially among developed countries, the absolute level of between-country inequality has risen over time. The sources of widening inequality in length of life between countries remain unclear, but signs point away from trends in income, leaving patterns of knowledge diffusion as a potential candidate.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16088

Published: Edwards, Ryan D. (2011) "Trends in World Inequality in Life Span Since 1970," Population and Development Review 37(3): 499-528.

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