Donkin A, Goldblatt P, Lynch K. Inequalities in life expectancy by social class, 1972-1999. Health Statistics Quarterly 2002; 15 (Autumn): 5-15

This paper examines trends in life expectancy by social class, based on the ONS Longitudinal Study (LS) from 1972 to 1999. Figures published previously were based largely on social class at entry to the study from 1971 onwards. By looking at figures based on social class at or after subsequent censuses (in 1981 and 1991), it is confirmed that some of the initial widening in inequalities between Social Classes I and V since 1971 can be attributed to health selection effects. However, average deviation across all social classes, shows a steady widening of the social gradient that is largely unaffected by health selection. The analyses also suggests that, as an indirect effect of greater longevity, measures of inequality in life expectancy are less reliable when calculated using predominantly 1991 social class than when using 1971 or 1981 social class. This has implications for the use of the new National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) for monitoring these inequalities. The narrowing of differences in male life expectancy between Social Classes I and V in the 1990s was examined. This was due to an above average improvement in the life expectancy of those in Social Class V that began in the early 1990s.