How We Fall Apart: Similarities of Human Aging in 10 European Countries

Abstract

We analyze human aging—understood as health deficit accumulation—for a panel of European individuals, using four waves of the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE data set) and constructing a health deficit index. Results from log-linear regressions suggest that, on average, elderly European men and women develop approximately 2.5 % more health deficits from one birthday to the next. In nonlinear regressions (akin to the Gompertz-Makeham model), however, we find much greater rates of aging and large differences between men and women as well as between countries. Interestingly, these differences follow a particular regularity (akin to the compensation effect of mortality) and suggest an age at which average health deficits converge for men and women and across countries. This age, which may be associated with human life span, is estimated as 102 ± 2.6 years.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Mitnitski, Rockwood, and coauthors originally established the methodology as the frailty index. Newer studies have also used the term health deficit index (e.g., Mitnitski and Rockwood 2016), which seems to be a more appropriate term when the investigated population consists to a significant degree of nonfrail persons.

  2. 2.

    On a more general level, our study is also related to the literature on the compensation effect of mortality, also known as the Strehler-Mildvan correlation (Strulik and Vollmer 2013; Yashin et al. 2001; Zheng 2014; Zheng et al. 2011), as well as to the general discussion of human life span (Carey 2003; Carnes and Olshansky 2007; Finch and Pike 1996; Gavrilov and Gavrilova 1991; Oeppen and Vaupel 2002; Wilmoth and Robine 2003).

  3. 3.

    We used part of the Easyshare release 2.0.0 to compile the data set.

  4. 4.

    Although the main target is to survey adults aged 50 or older (aiming to create a data set representative of the noninstitutionalized population aged 50+), younger people can also be found in the data because partners are also interviewed. These data were removed because they do not belong to the representative sample.

  5. 5.

    Here, following Mitnitski et al. (2002a), we coded multilevel deficits using a mapping to the Likert scale in the interval 0–1. We also computed binary deficits using cutoff points, as suggested by Pena et al. (2014); we found that the two indices were not statistically different from each other, across waves and across subgroups.

  6. 6.

    Wave 5 was omitted in column 6 from Tables 1 and 2 because of collinearity.

  7. 7.

    The SHARE data set provides information on whether people left the sample because they passed away.

  8. 8.

    In Online Resource 1, we show the figures for the nonlinear estimates and the cutoff of 85 years. Although the precise estimates per country differ, the general patterns remain the same.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Kenneth Harttgen, Arnold Mitnitski, and Sebastian Vollmer for helpful comments. This article uses data from SHARE Waves 1, 2, 4, and 5 (DOIs: https://doi.org/10.6103/SHARE.w1.500, https://doi.org/10.6103/SHARE.w2.500, https://doi.org/10.6103/SHARE.w4.500, https://doi.org/10.6103/SHARE.w5.500); see Börsch-Supan et al. (2013) for methodological details. The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through FP5 (QLK6-CT-2001-00360), FP6 (SHARE-I3: RII-CT-2006-062193, COMPARE: CIT5-CT-2005-028857, SHARELIFE: CIT4-CT-2006-028812) and FP7 (SHARE-PREP: N.211909, SHARE-LEAP: N. 227822, SHARE M4: N.261982). Additional funding from the German Ministry of Education and Research, the U.S. National Institute on Aging (U01-AG09740-13S2, P01-AG005842, P01-AG08291, P30-AG12815, R21-AG025169, Y1-AG-4553-01, IAG-BSR06-11, OGHA-04-064), and from various national funding sources is gratefully acknowledged (see www.share-project.org).

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Correspondence to Ana Lucia Abeliansky.

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Abeliansky, A.L., Strulik, H. How We Fall Apart: Similarities of Human Aging in 10 European Countries. Demography 55, 341–359 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-017-0641-8

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Keywords

  • Aging
  • Health deficit index
  • Europe
  • Gender differences
  • Human life span