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Understanding Recent Change in Gender Differences in Life Expectancy among Adults in Wealthy Countries

a MiCDA Pilot Project Description

Investigators: Sarah Burgard

Funding: Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging, 2014-2016

Recent studies addressing these trends have focused on health-related lifestyle factors patterned differently by gender and across societies. The timing of smoking adoption and its mortality consequences several decades later is clearly important, and evidence has also supported a role for obesity trends and social and health policy differences across countries, but many important questions about the factors underlying these changed behaviors remains. Nearly all prior research has used vital statistics records and census-type data with life table methods or simulations to obtain estimates. A few studies have used data from mortality follow-up records appended to cross-sectional survey interviews. While essential, these studies cannot capture individual-level dynamics of relevant health behaviors and social exposures across the life course. They have not considered many prominent social and economic changes over this same period, including women's greater participation in the paid labor force, bring both greater economic leverage and a growing total burden of paid and unpaid work, or changes in family structure. Social disparities in these patterns also remain to be explored and may be important; some evidence suggests less-educated U.S. women have been particularly hard hit. This proposal will generate needed measures and results from representative and diverse samples of U.S. adults with detailed prospective health behavioral, employment and family information is needed to better understand how major social and health behavioral changes over the past several cohorts are linked, and what factors might be most important in explaining recent patterns of life expectancy and informing intervention or policy to improve outcomes.

Research Signature Theme:

Health and well-being in later life: Mortality