Live Long and Prosper – Modelling Socio-Economic Differences in Mortality



On the afternoon of January 18, 2023, professors, academics, students, and friends gathered at the Lutherse Kerk in Amsterdam to listen to Professor Kleinow’s inaugural lecture titled: Live Long and Prosper, Modelling Socio-Economic Differences in Mortality.  

In 1825, Benjamin Gompertz presented a paper at the Royal Society in London wherein he modelled life expectancy, theorizing that age-specific mortality rates increased exponentially as people grew older. His paper played an important role in shaping actuarial thinking and the methods used by insurance companies to price life annuities and other products. Access to more granular data has enabled actuaries to develop more accurate models for predicting life expectancy.  

Professor Kleinow explained how averages can hide nuances that are very important in understanding how long an individual is likely to live at a certain age. He showed that while the average life expectancy from age 20 for a woman in The Netherlands increased from 60.7 years in 1850 to 75.1 years in 1950, the real improvement was in the dramatic fall in the number of women who were dying before their 60’s as a result of better sanitation and living conditions. He pointed out that we do not all live longer, but fewer of us die at a young age.  

The Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom collects a treasure trove of information for actuaries and data scientists. Together with the UK government they have developed an Index of Multiple Deprivation that combines seven domains including: income, education, employment etc. Using this index, they are able to divide the county’s local neighbourhoods into 10 deciles based on their level of deprivation. Where you live matters. A 40-year old individual, living in a community in the most deprived decile has a mortality rate that is about eight times higher than their counterparts living in a community that is least deprived. Put another way, a man living in one of the most deprived areas has a live expectancy that is similar to a man living 70 years ago, before many of the medical and scientific advances we enjoy today. 

Professor Kleinow showed how the relative importance of causes of death have changed over the period from 1994 to 2019 in the Netherlands. During this period, the most common cause of death for men has changed from circulatory diseases to cancers. This has been attributed to investment and advances in developing treatment and cures for cardiovascular conditions and changing life styles 

Research that helps us better understand changes in life expectancy benefits society at large and is the foundation for informed decision making: individuals have a better understanding of how long they are going to live and can take steps to avoid old age poverty, pension funds better understand the risks they are managing, governments have more accurate information with which to look at state pension and retirement age and society benefits from understanding how we live over the course of our lives.   


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