A set of indicators for decomposing the secular increase of life expectancy.
AbstractABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: The ongoing increase in life expectancy in developed countries is associated with changes in the shape of the survival curve. These changes can be characterized by two main, distinct components: (i) the decline in premature mortality, i.e., the concentration of deaths around some high value of the mean age at death, also termed rectangularization of the survival curve; and (ii) the increase of this mean age at death, i.e., longevity, which directly reflects the reduction of mortality at advanced ages. Several recent observations suggest that both mechanisms are simultaneously taking place. METHODS: We propose a set of indicators aiming to quantify, disentangle, and compare the respective contribution of rectangularization and longevity increase to the secular increase of life expectancy. These indicators, based on a nonparametric approach, are easy to implement. RESULTS: We illustrate the method with the evolution of the Swiss mortality data between 1876 and 2006. Using our approach, we are able to say that the increase in longevity and rectangularization explain each about 50% of the secular increase of life expectancy. CONCLUSION: Our method may provide a useful tool to assess whether the contribution of rectangularization to the secular increase of life expectancy will remain around 50% or whether it will be increasing in the next few years, and thus whether concentration of mortality will eventually take place against some ultimate biological limit.