Large social differences in life expectancy in good health

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In the 31st issue of the series Social Change in Switzerland, Adrien Remund and Stéphane Cullati show that between 1990 and 2014 life expectancy increased by three years for women and five years for men. This increase concerns years of life spent in good health. However, an inequality persists: while life expectancy in good health has risen sharply among university graduates, it has stagnated among people without post-compulsory education.

By analysing data from the Swiss National Cohort and the Swiss Health Survey, the two researchers show that people aged 30 in 2014 can expect to live to 85.7 (women) and 81.5 (men). This represents 3 years (women) and 5 years (men) more life than in 1990. At the same time, life expectancy in good health has also increased. A person in his or her thirties can expect to live in good health until the age of 82.8 years for women and 78.8 years for men.

Over the same period, social inequality in relation to death has decreased, but has not disappeared. In 2014, the gap in life expectancy between people without post-compulsory education and university graduates is 2.5 years for women and 5 years for men. However, in terms of healthy life expectancy, the socio-economic gap has widened. In 1990, university graduates lived 3.3 years (women) and 7.6 years (men) longer in good health than people without post-compulsory education. A quarter of a century later, this gap has increased to 5 years for women and 8.8 years for men.

These results imply that all the life years gained since 1990 were in poor health for men without post-compulsory education. The two researchers conclude that the Swiss health system offers a high life expectancy to the whole population. However, it does not succeed in ensuring that everyone benefits from the gains in healthy life expectancy. The researchers point to a narrow focus on acute medicine at the expense of prevention.

 >> Remund, A. & Cullati, S. (2022). Les inégalités d’espérance de vie en bonne santé en Suisse depuis 1990. Social Change in Switzerland, N°31,


The series Social Change in Switzerland continuously documents the evolution of the social structure in Switzerland. It is published jointly by the Swiss Competence Centre for Social Sciences FORS, the Centre for Research on Life Courses and Inequalities (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lausanne) LINES and LIVES - The Swiss Competence Centre for Research on Life Courses and Vulnerabilities. The aim is to trace changes in employment, family, income, mobility, voting or gender in Switzerland. Based on state-of-the-art empirical research, it is aimed at a wider audience than just specialists.