The growing gap between life expectancy and health status Working life expectancy poses challenges for pensions

A new study that predicts a widening gap between overall life expectancy and healthy working life expectancy (HWLE) suggests that although average lifespan has increased, the amount of time older people spend in good health and able to work has not necessarily continued at the same pace. The study, published as a research letter in natural aging , has important implications for policy makers.

The population of the United Kingdom, like that of many Western countries, has been steadily aging since the second half of the 20th Century. Gains in life expectancy in recent years have been the reason for raising the legal retirement age in the UK, as elsewhere in Europe. However, little attention seems to have been given to people’s ability to work for more years later in life, or whether there are enough suitable job opportunities for them to work. can do it.

Study details

For the study, a team led by Marty Lynch PhD from Keele University School of Medicine used Health Survey data for England to estimate future trends in life expectancy. overall and the HWLE from 50 to 75 for men and women in England between 2015 and 2035.

Life expectancy from age 50 for men was 26.20 years in 1996, 30.60 years in 2015 and 31.60 years in 2018. It was estimated at 31.97 years in 2020 and at 34.70 years in 2035. For women, life expectancy from age 50 was 30.39 years in 1996. , 33.65 years in 2015, 34.51 years in 2018 and projected at 34.79 years in 2020 and 36.72 years in 2035.

In comparison, estimates of life expectancy from age 50 by 2035, based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2018, were 33.5 years for males and 36.0 years for women. Thus, the authors’ projected life expectancy was 1.20 years higher than the ONS estimates for men and 0.72 years for women.

The team calculated that the HWLE for males over age 50 increased from 6.93 in 1996 to 8.94 in 2014, and is expected to increase to 8.67 in 2015, 8.85 in 2020 and 9 .05 years in 2035. The equivalent figures for women were 4.94 in 1996, 6.85 in 2014, 7.49 years in 2015, 7.74 years in 2020 and 8.57 years in 2035.

Population forecasting methods gave projections of increases in life expectancy per calendar year from age 50, with an average of 10.7 weeks (0.21 years) for males and 6.4 weeks (0.12 years) for women. However, HWLE gains are expected to increase at a slower rate, averaging 1 week (0.02 year) per year for men and 2.8 weeks (0.05 year) per year for women over the course of the same period.

Implications for pension policy

“Average HWLE earnings are not expected to keep pace with average life expectancy gains, meaning a likely decrease over time in the percentage of life expectancy from age 50 spent healthy and employed. “, say the researchers.

The widening gap “suggests that working life is not necessarily expanding in line with policy goals, which may lead to an increase in the number of older people requiring benefits due to poor health or unemployment”, concluded the team.

Lead author Marty Lynch said United Kingdom“Further research is needed to identify key drivers and barriers to HWLE, so that evidence-based initiatives can be put in place to improve the health, well-being, and work opportunities of the population. Such Interventions will be needed as the state retirement age increases.

“It is important that we understand the implications of this policy decision on members of the population and what initiatives could help people stay healthy and in work longer than expected.”

She gave examples of work factors that could impact how long people can stay healthy and at work, including part-time or flexible work opportunities, types of positions available, number employment opportunities, if individuals have time-consuming family responsibilities. , and health and lifestyle factors.

“Poor health is one of the main reasons why people leave work before the legal retirement age, particularly after the age of 50, so it will be important to maintain a healthy workforce. good health for the political goals of prolonging working life to succeed,” she said.

“The increase in the statutory retirement age and the abandonment of the HWLE likely means that at least some groups in the population will probably find it difficult to wait longer to receive this financial support.

Gen X may not be as healthy as baby boomers

In an editorial accompanying the article, Professor John W. Rowe from Columbia University in New York and Lisa Berkman PhD from Harvard University notes that there is also evidence that more recent birth cohorts of men and women who are now middle-aged may not be as healthy as current retirees, at least in the USA. They may therefore have a “less optimistic future” compared to those currently over 60.

“The findings reported by Lynch et al. in this issue underscore the risk of indiscriminately advancing the retirement age without a concomitant set of policies and programs to support workers and retirees,” they warn.

Commenting on the article, Thomas Scharf, professor of social gerontology at Newcastle University, says United Kingdom“The growing gap between life expectancy and healthy working life expectancy is a major challenge for aging societies. Expecting people to work longer in poor health raises important questions, not only about the necessary adaptations to workplaces, but also about the deep seated inequalities that mark later life.

“The risks of poor health are unevenly distributed in society, with people living in the most deprived communities, for example, having much worse health and higher rates of disability than those living in more advantaged areas. These data should be a central element of debates on changes in pension policy.

The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The authors declare no competing interests.

Lynch, M., Bucknall, M., Jagger, C. et al. Projections of healthy working life expectancy in England to 2035. Nat Aging 2, 13-18 (2022). DOI:

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