Death & occupation: When should your client make plans?

Research on the correlation between death and socio-economic position may indicate a relationship between occupation and the likelihood of dying at an earlier age.

The longitudinal study, conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), looks at the differences in age at death between certain time periods alongside gender and socio-economic position.

The analysis mainly focuses on the most common age at death (the modal age), as well as the median age (the age at which half of the population have survived).

Period life tables are used to measure age at death. These use current age-specific mortality rates, giving an average number of years that a person has remaining, based on them experiencing that particular mortality rate throughout their life.

The periods looked at were between 1982 to 1986 and 2007 to 2011.

Key statistics

For the latter period, the most common age of death in England and Wales was 85.6 years for men and 88.3 years for women. In comparison to the former time period, this is a respective increase of 8.2 and 3.8 years.

The most common age of death for men and women classed as working in higher managerial or professional occupations during 2007 to 2011 was 86.8 and 89.4 respectively. Compared to men and women working in ‘routine occupations’, the higher positions lived 2.4 years and 2.7 years longer.

For men, the improvement in the most common age of death over the 30 year period has been greater for those in routine occupations than those in higher occupations. This has been the case since the early to mid-1980’s, with the modal age at death growing by 9.2 years for the former and 7.4 for the latter.

How the age of death has changed

If the study’s 2007-2011 age-specific mortality rates were to continue for the male population in England and Wales, it is forecasted that at 81.8 years old, half of the population would still be alive, with the majority dying when they reached 85.6.

The increase in age at which people are dying was observed following the study’s mortality pattern, which is a representative 1% sample of England and Wales.

Distribution of deaths has moved towards the latter half of the lifetime spectrum in recent years. This indicates that death is more likely to occur at a later time, as deaths which were previously occurring at a younger age are now occurring later. Further, it indicates that people are living longer than in previous years and that the most common age of death has increased.

During 1982 to 1986, the mean age at death in England and Wales was 72.1 for males and 77.8 for females. This is based on the traditional life expectancy from birth. However, by 2007 to 2011, the figures had increased to 79.1 for males and 82.4 for females. In terms of the modal age of death, or the age at which the most deaths occurred, this increased by 8.2 years and 3.8 years respectively since 1982 to 1986.

For men, the level of improvement was much greater over the 30-year period, with the median age at death growing from 74.7 to 81.8 years; a gain of 7.2 years. Over the same time frame, the median age of death for females only grew by 4.6 years, rising from 80.7 to 85.3.

Death in relation to occupation

This analyses the differences in age of death over the past 30 years, establishing the changes in median and modal death of those in varying levels of occupation. This can be measured by using the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NE-SC).

From the former time period to the latter, the modal age at death has increased by 7.4 years for men in higher managerial and professional occupations. In 2007 to 2011, the modal age of death reached 86.8 years. For routine occupations, however, the improvement was even more significant, with the modal age at death growing over the same period from 75.2 years to 84.4 years – a difference of 9.2 years. As well as indicating that there is a notable difference in age at death between the occupational groups, these figures also show that there was a significant improvement in the age of death from those in the least advantaged employment roles.

Over the past 30 years, the median age at death for men in higher occupations has grown from 77.7 to 84.8 years – an improvement of 7.1 years. Across all male socio-economic classes, this is the most significant improvement in median age at death.

The age at death for women in higher managerial and professional occupations was 89.4 years during 2007 to 2011. It was 86.7 for women in routine occupations, illustrating a class difference of 2.7 years. Over the same period, the women in the higher occupations had a median age at death of 87.5 years, whilst for those in routine occupations, the median fell by 4 years to 83.5.

As women tend to, on the whole, live longer than men, their modal age at death is comparatively higher. During the latter period of 2007 to 2011, the modal age at death for women in routine occupations was 2.3 years higher than the men in the same class; 86.7 years compared to 84.4 years. Similarly, the women in the higher managerial and professional occupations had a modal age at death of 89.4, whilst for men, it was 86.4; a gap of 2.6 years between the genders.

The gender gaps for the former period were also then analysed. In 1982 to 1986, the routine occupations gap was 7.9 years, whereas, for the higher managerial and professional occupations, the gap stood at 6.3 years. The narrowing of these gaps indicates a reduction in the difference between the genders over time. However, the gender gaps in the different class groups have switched over the 30-year time frame, with routine occupations having the narrower gap in the latter period.

On the whole, the statistics indicate that women in the higher managerial and professional occupations are likely to live the longest, with men in routine occupations more likely to have the lowest age at death.

These figures are useful in examining not just how age impacts the age at which death occurs, but also the socio-economic position. Citing these statistics to clients can help them understand the importance of consolidating their wishes and encouraging them to write a will, especially if they are of the class with the lower age of death.

Death reports from the ONS not only enhance personal understanding of the market but also indicate why some clients may need to make plans for the future sooner than others. This is why knowing the key figures is important for any Will writer.

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