New Approaches to Measuring Ageing in South Africa

  • Mercy Shoko


Background and Significance of the topic: Health expectancy is generally expressed as life expectancy free of disability and is a useful tool for assessing the interaction between health, ill-health and mortality with age. The present study explores ageing trajectories using health expectancy for the four population subgroups in South Africa, namely Black African, Indian/Asian, Coloured (of mixed descent) and White. It provides a fresh look at ageing in South Africa with important implications for evidence-based long-term plans and policies to address the current and future needs of older persons. Methodology: Estimated health expectancy was determined using the Sullivan method which requires the use of data on both morbidity and mortality. Application/Relevance to systems analysis: Research on health variation in older persons across population groups is central to demographic systems, and helps to reveal the socioeconomic vulnerability of the older adult population. Policy and/or practice implications: The research informs potential areas for policy change relating to older adults and highlights the planning required to enable the provision of age-appropriate services. Discussion and conclusion: The present study is important because it showed population group heterogeneity which characteristically gets masked at national level. The data indicated that in addition to age and sex variations, there is a population group hierarchy in health expectancy. The findings also supported the “health-survival paradox” in disability free life expectancy and the general differences in health expectancy suggested in the study has implications for retirement ages, which is currently 60. The study has clear policy implications, one of them being the need for age-appropriate planning for health and social services.


Ageing Population groups Health expectancy Age-appropriate services Policy Life expectancy 



This is a revised version of a paper written at the 2013/14 Southern African Young Scientists Summer Programme (SA-YSSP). The author therefore acknowledges the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, University of the Free State, South Africa’s National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology for co-ordinating and funding the SA-YSSP and Statistics South Africa for allowing access to the datasets used for the study. Many thanks also go to Warren C. Sanderson, Sergei Scherbov and Nancy Phaswana-Mafuya, who introduced the concept of new ways of measuring ageing during the programme and helped to conceptualise and develop the research, and to anonymous individuals for invaluable comments on earlier drafts of the paper. The views expressed in this paper are however, those of the author and do not represent any organisations or individuals mentioned here.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Statistics South Africa and School of Public HealthUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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