Mortality and life expectancy in the most privileged socio-economic groups: 'The Vanguard Project'

Dave Leon and Georgina Ronalds, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Vladimir Shkolnikov, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

[Project number 30039]

The Laboratory for Demographic Data of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany is leading 'The Vanguard project'. This aims to study mortality and survival by educational level and socio-occupational class, with a special attention to mortality among the most socio-economically advantaged groups. The project aims to get a better understanding of pathways leading towards higher survival and longevity across various socio-demographic groups in low-mortality countries such as Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the USA.

There is great interest in trends in longevity. The world's highest national life expectancies have been experiencing a linear increase for over a century and there is still no sign of a slow down. At the same time, others envisage an arrival at an upper biological limit to life span. Previously, studies in this area have looked at the general population. This project takes a new approach, considering mortality in the most socio-economically advantaged population groups, which is much lower than in respective general populations. Longevity in these advantaged groups probably indicates the highest levels achieved by large population groups, and is likely to give better estimates of limits to longevity.

The project will include in-depth analyses of mortality in socio-demographic groups at middle and old ages, with a special emphasis on groups with the lowest levels of mortality (e.g. people who are married, those with high education and those from advantaged socio-occupational classes).

The project requires accurate, nationally-representative mortality data, comparable with other low-mortality countries, with the opportunity for follow-up. The project requires the use of variables for educational attainment, occupational class and marital status to allow identification of the most advantaged socio-economic groups. The LS is the only nationally representative data source that fits these requirements.

The LS data will be used for cohort analysis. The study can be seen as four periods of follow-up, with subjects being followed between Censuses, either until death or the end of the follow-up period. The four time periods are: 1971-1981, 1981-1991, 1991-2001, 1971-2001.

We will use the data from the LS to enumerate the following:
1. The time in person-years (months if allowed) from beginning of follow-up to end of follow-up or death, whichever is earlier.
2. The number of deaths during follow-up from all causes
3. The number of deaths for each cause in a short aggregated list.

These data will be tabulated by age, sex, level of education, marital status, occupational social class and calendar year (year bands if necessary). We will aggregate data where small numbers make this necessary. Only subjects aged 31 years and greater will be considered.

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