The impact of population's educational composition on Healthy Life Years: An empirical illustration of 16 European countries


Healthy life years (HLY) is a prominent summary indicator for evaluating and comparing the levels of population health status across Europe. Variations in HLY, however, do not necessarily reflect underlying differences in health and mortality levels among countries and the indicator is particularly sensitive when broken down by subpopulations. For instance, despite European countries showing large HLY inequalities by educational level, these countries are also heterogenous regarding their population composition by educational attainment, which most likely affects their HLY levels. We demonstrate how this compositional effect shapes HLY levels by providing estimates for HLY by educational attainment and gender for 16 European countries using the Sullivan method. We use prevalence data about limitations in daily activities from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) and mortality data from the Eurostat database. Finally, we adjust for compositional effects by means of standardization. The education-adjusted HLY estimates do not differ much from conventional HLY. Yet, we find that in some countries HLY levels are indeed affected by the population composition by educational attainment. For example, low-, medium-, and high educated individuals in Portugal show more HLY than their counterparts in Poland. Still, Poland’s total HLY value slightly exceeds that of Portugal, indicating favorable health and mortality conditions in Poland. It is Poland’s lower relative number of low educated individuals in its population that is responsible for producing this higher total HLY value. We conclude that differentials in HLY due to differences in the relative size of educational subpopulations are generally small in HLY across Europe but they can play an important role for countries that experienced large differences in their educational expansion.

SSM - Population Health:15(100857), 1–11.