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Int J Epidemiol. 2000 Feb;29(1):140-8.

Lack of improvement of life expectancy at advanced ages in The Netherlands.

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  • 1Department of Public Health, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



Several countries have reported an increase in life expectancy at advanced ages. This paper analyses recent changes in life expectancy at age 60 and 85 in The Netherlands, a low mortality country with reliable mortality data.


We used data on the population and the number of deaths by age, sex and underlying cause of death for 1970-1994. Life expectancy at age 60 and 85 was estimated using standard life-table techniques. The contribution of different ages and causes of death to the change in life expectancy during the 1970s (1970/74-1980/84) and the 1980s (1980/84-1990/94) were estimated with a decomposition technique developed by Arriaga.


Life expectancy at age 60 increased in the 1970s and 1980s, whereas life expectancy at age 85 decreased (men) and stagnated (women) in the 1980s, and has decreased in both sexes since 1985/89. The decomposition by age showed that constant mortality rates in women aged 85-89, and increasing mortality rates at ages 85+ (men) and 90+ (women) have caused this lack of increase in life expectancy. The decomposition by cause of death showed that smaller mortality reductions from other cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, which contributed most to the increase in life expectancy at age 85 in the 1970s, and mortality increases from, amongst others, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), mental disorders and diabetes mellitus produced the decrease (men) and plateau (women) in life expectancy at age 85.


Life expectancy at advanced ages stopped increasing during the 1980s in The Netherlands due to mortality increases at ages 85+ (men) and 90+ (women). Cause-specific trends suggest that, in addition to (past) smoking behaviour in men, changes in the distribution of morbidity and frailty in the population might have contributed to this stagnation.

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