The Effect of Increasing Human Capital on Increasing Life Expectancy: A Demographic Decomposition

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Elise Richter Saal (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Marc LUY, Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria, Austria
Marina ZANNELLA, Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria, Austria
Yuka M. SUGAWARA, Sophia University Tokyo, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Japan
Christian WEGNER-SIEGMUNDT, Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria
Graziella CASELLI, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Department of Statistical Sciences, Italy
Drastic reductions in mortality, which started in the middle of the 18th century, led to tremendous increases in life expectancy particularly in industrialized countries. Most of these changes were due to the shift in cause-specific-mortality patterns from communicable diseases at younger ages to non-communicable conditions more prevalent at advanced ages, as aptly described in the ‘epidemiologic transition theory’. Recently, the potentials of human longevity were further extended by the so-called ‘cardiovascular revolution’ that started in the 1970s and launched a new period of decreasing mortality. Evidence relates these improvements to new medical advancements, such as developments in screening, prevention, and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, advances in healthy lifestyles reduced mortality and have been leading to further improvements of survival chances. Coinciding with these trends, the populations experienced significant increases in human capital in terms of education level. These shifts in populations’ education levels are also relevant for understanding the observed trends in life expectancy because a great deal of research revealed the strong influences of socioeconomic resources on various health outcomes. We will demonstrate that the increase in human capital itself was in fact a strong contributor to the rising levels of life expectancy, in addition to the direct effect of decreasing mortality. This finding is in line with the theoretical heterogeneity approach, which states that mortality levels and differences in mortality are strongly influenced by the specific risk group composition of populations. Ultimately, it fuels the expectation of continuing increases of life expectancy which caused intensive debates among demographers and split the community into optimists and pessimists. Obviously, these results have several important policy implications for all populations of the world, in particular for today’s threshold countries and several populations of the global south where education levels are projected to increase even stronger than in the industrialized world.