Why Have Gains in U.S. Women’s Longevity Lagged behind Europe? A Comparison of the US and Finland

Jennifer Karas Montez, Harvard University
Pekka Martikainen, University of Helsinki
Hanna Remes, University of Helsinki

Recent gains in women’s life expectancy within the United States (US) have lagged behind many high-income European countries. We hypothesize that the resulting life expectancy gap partly reflects post-WWII changes in work-family life within the context of weak social protection policies (e.g., family leave) in the US. For instance, work-family conflict (incompatible demands of combining fulltime employment and childrearing) is higher in the US than other high-income countries; and work-family conflict can damage health. We test our hypothesis by comparing the US to Finland, which has generous social policies to support families, children, and employed parents. We harmonize data on US women from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study with data on Finnish women from national registers, covering 1987-2001. We examine the extent to which country-level differences in the distribution of work-family combinations, and in the mortality consequences of work-family combinations, explain the longevity gap. The findings have important policy implications.

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Presented in Session 146: Mortality Trends and Differentials