Monday 14 October 2019

Rich-poor divide widened in boom years - wealthy people increased their life expectancy

Working class men saw the smallest drop in death rates

Irish mortality rates
Irish mortality rates
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

THE rich-poor divide widened during Ireland's boom years with the better-off dramatically increasing their life expectancy.

Death rates, which are a barometer of life expectancy, fell by 27pc between the 1990s and the 2000s among men in professional jobs, managerial positions and the self-employed.

However, for working class men the drop was less than half at 12pc, an ESRI conference on the link between income and death rates will be told today.

All groups in Ireland can expect to live longer lives and between 1950 and 2012 life expectancy in Ireland grew by 15 years on average, from 66 years to 81 years.

But the pace of improvement for people with the best incomes is racing ahead of that for the least well-off.

The drop in deaths from cardiovascular disease and respiratory conditions has been particularly marked and the lower rate of people smoking, along with adopting healthier lifestyles, have contributed to more people enjoying an old age.

But behind the headline figures there are glaring gaps, according to ESRI researcher Richard Layte, who is presenting the conference 'Socio-Economic Inequalities in Mortality in Ireland Over Time and Place' along with research from Trinity College and NUI Maynooth.

Dr Layte said: "The growing gap between social groups can largely be explained by changes in the pattern of deaths from external causes such as accidents, poisonings, assault and suicide as well as digestive causes-diseases of the liver, oesophagus.

"Among women, deaths from cancer also contribute to a widening gap between social groups," he added.

The worrying statistics reveal:

* The rate of improvement in life expectancy increased around the year 2000. For example, between 1996 and 1999 death rates fell by 5pc, but the fall accelerated to 26pc between 2000 and 2004.

* Irish research suggests that this improvement was due to improvements in the control of cardiovascular and respiratory conditions in the late 1990s among those aged over 65.

All social groups have experienced improvements in life expectancy since the 1980s.

However, a growing gap has emerged in life expectancy across social groups.

While death rates for men in manual jobs were 100pc higher than among professional groups in the 1980s, this gap increased to 140pc during the 2000s.

* The growing gap across social groups largely reflects an increasing gap between non-manual and manual groups for deaths from external causes, digestive disease and cancers in the case of women.

* Death rates among male manual groups from external causes were 2.3 times higher than the professional groups in the 1980s but they were 3.9 times higher in the 2000s.

* While it is not possible to disaggregate deaths from external causes in Ireland at present, the evidence from previous Irish research suggests suicide among younger unemployed men and increasing death rates from industrial and farming accidents during the economic boom may be important.

* The death rate among women who work in manual jobs or are married to a manual worker was 1.5 times higher from digestive causes than that found in professional women in the 1980s. This chasm has widened in the 2000s to a difference of 2.1.

* The research pointed out the rises in deaths from digestive diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver are strongly linked to increased alcohol consumption.

* The death rate among all age groups in the places in Ireland with the highest toll was four times that of the area with the lowest rate in 2011.

* When comparison is confined to deaths among those aged under 75, the death rate in the geographic area with the highest rate is six times that of the area with the lowest rate.

Commenting on the findings Prof Layte said: "This is the first analysis of the way that differentials in mortality changed during the last three decades in Ireland.

"The good news is that life expectancy for all groups in Ireland is at an all time high. The bad news is that the gap between groups has increased.

"This project attempts to understand why and what we can do about it," he added.

The study did not measure factors such as faster access to hospital care to see a specialist for instance or screening for illnesses such as cancer to determine what effect they have on a the longevity figures. The study found that women continue to enjoy longer life expectancy than men.

Mapping and tracking will take more years

An analysis of death rates in over 400 locations across the country was begun by researchers in Maynooth university in 2006 and the same areas have been tracked up to 2011.

While changes have been noted in some areas since 2006, due to factors such as an influx of young people, many of the patterns showing the highest and lowest death rates have persisted.

More years of figures and analysis are needed to give a full picture.

The areas with the healthiest populations, based on death rates, are among the highest in Dublin. And the capital also has the areas with the worst rates, along with sections of the largest other cities in the country.

It can mean stark differences in statistics in areas which are just a few miles from each other, pointed out Jan Rigby of the National Centre for Geocomputation in NUI Maynooth.

The findings signal that areas of deprivation have higher death rates for all ages.

The benefit of this research means that instead of looking at the county as whole, pockets of high death rates are pinpointed which could otherwise be overlooked. The northside and southside divide in Dublin city is marked. In reality it appears to be more a north-west and south-east divide with relatively affluent areas such as Clontarf and Howth in the east, north of the Liffey.

The benefit of the work is that it allows policy-makers to target funding at those areas which are under most pressure with health and other economic supports.

Irish Independent

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