Linking Changes in Inequality in Life Expectancy and Mortality: Evidence from Denmark and the United States
We decompose changing gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor into differential changes in age-specific mortality rates and differences in “survivability”. Declining age-specific mortality rates increases life expectancy, but the gain is small if the likelihood of living to this age is small (ex ante survivability) or if the expected remaining lifetime is short (ex post survivability). Lower survivability of the poor explains half of the recent rise in life expectancy inequality in the US and the entire rise in Denmark. Cardiovascular mortality declines favored the poor, but differences in lifestyle-related survivability led inequality to rise.
We thank participants at the NBER workshop on Income and Life Expectancy (2019) in Boston, the workshop on Health Inequalities (2019) at the Copenhagen Business School and the workshop on Behavioral Responses to Health Innovations and the Consequences for Socioeconomic Outcomes (2019) at the University of Copenhagen for helpful discussions and comments. We are also grateful for discussions with Bo Honore and Chris Ruhm. Kristian Urup Olesen Larsen provided excellent research assistance. The Center for Economic Behavior and Inequality (CEBI) at the University of Copenhagen is supported by Danish National Research Foundation Grant DNRF134. This research was also supported by Novo Nordisk Foundation Grant NNF17OC0026542. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.