Self-rated life expectancy and lifetime socio-economic position: cross-sectional analysis of the British Household Panel Survey

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2007


Background The association between mortality risk and socio-economic position (SEP) across the lifecourse is established. This study investigates whether people's own ratings of their life expectancy are also associated with lifetime SEP. Health behaviour messages, which often emphasize the long-term benefits of behavioural change, may be received differently depending on people's perceptions of their life chances.
Methods Cross-sectional analysis of 4780 adults aged 25-64 interviewed in the British Household Panel Survey in 2001.
Results Just under a quarter of respondents did not think it likely they would live to 75 or older. People in lower SEPs were more likely to be pessimistic about their life expectancy. This applied across a number of socio-economic measures (father's social class, educational achievement, own social class, and household income). Eight socio-economic lifecourse pathways were compared. In comparison to those following the most advantaged pathway, those experiencing sustained socio-economic disadvantage were most likely to be pessimistic about their longevity, but those experiencing sustained upward mobility did not differ. Comparisons with measures of self-rated general health and limiting illness suggest that self-rated life expectancy is at least partially independent of current health status.
Conclusions This study shows that people's own perceptions of their life expectancy are associated with lifetime SEP. Self-rated life expectancy, in part, appears to reflect something over and above current health status and smoking behaviour. Given its ease of collection, it would be informative to include self-rated life expectancy in future studies.

Published in

International Journal of Epidemiology


Volume: 36 (1):58-65




Originally (Advance Access, Nov. 2006), doi:10.1093/ije/dyl241

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