Estimating Healthy Working Life Expectancy at age 50 in England

Marty Parker, Health and Wellbeing, Keele University, 2018 Cohort 

People in many countries around the world are being asked to work until they are older because of gains in life expectancy and population ageing. In the UK, this is through deferring the age of eligibility for receipt of State Pension payments. State Pension age has now risen past age 66 years for men and women in the UK. However, it is not clear whether population health and job opportunities are good enough for this policy goal to be successful.

The first quantitative study from my PhD was published earlier this year in The Lancet Public Health on the topic of Healthy Working Life Expectancy (HWLE). HWLE tells us the average number of years people in a population are likely to be healthy and in paid work from age 50. HWLE can help us understand whether a population is able to work for longer, focusing on later working life when poor health or few good job opportunities can lead people to retire early.

The study presents the first estimates of HWLE in England overall and for men and women separately, people in different occupation types, and according to socioeconomic status (captured through education level and area-level deprivation). We analysed mortality-linked data from adults aged 50 years and older collected in six waves (2002–13) of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). The statistical method used to estimate HWLE was interpolated Markov chain multi-state modelling of cross-longitudinal survey data (panel data from repeated cross-sectional surveys of a cohort). We found that, on average, people at age 50 can expect to be healthy and in work for almost nine and a half years. Compared to the national average, HWLE is higher for men (eleven years) and lower for women (just over eight years). We also found that HWLE is higher for people in non-manual or self-employed occupations than those in manual occupations, and for people with higher levels of education. People also tend to live longer healthy working lives in the south compared to the north of England, and that the people living in the least deprived areas tended to stay healthy and in work for almost four years longer than the people living in the most deprived areas.

These results suggest that many people will find it challenging to wait until they are older to receive their State Pension. State Pension age increases are driven by national average life expectancy gains, but some English subpopulations have better health and longer life expectancy than other subpopulations. Further, life expectancy increases have stalled in England in the last decade and, for some groups, conditions seem to be getting worse. Interventions to improve population health and tackle widening inequalities and will likely be key to extending healthy working life.

You can read more about these results at The Lancet Public Health: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(20)30114-6/fulltext

And at The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/retirement-age-is-increasing-but-our-new-study-reveals-most-only-work-ten-years-in-good-health-after-50-141227

Twitter: @MartyEParker

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