Background: Quality-adjusted life expectancy (QALE) has been proposed as a summary measure of population health because it encompasses multiple health domains as well as length of life. However, trends in QALE by education or other socio-economic measure have not yet been reported. This study investigates changes in QALE stratified by educational level for the Dutch population in the period 2001-2011.
Methods: Using data from multiple sources, we estimated mortality rates and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) as functions of age, gender, calendar year and educational level. Subsequently, predictions from these regressions were combined for calculating QALE at ages 25 and 65. QALE changes were decomposed into effects of mortality and HRQoL.
Results: In 2001-2011, QALE increased for men and women at all educational levels, the largest increases being for highly educated resulting in a widening gap by education. In 2001, at age 25, the absolute QALE difference between the low and the highly educated was 7.4 healthy years (36.7 vs. 44.1) for men and 6.3 healthy years (39.5 vs. 45.8) for women. By 2011, the QALE difference increased to 8.1 healthy years (38.8 vs. 46.9) for men and to 7.1 healthy years (41.3 vs. 48.4) for women. Similar results were observed at age 65. Although the gap was largely attributable to widening inequalities in mortality, widening inequalities in HRQoL were also substantial.
Conclusions: In the Netherlands, population health as measured by QALE has improved, but QALE inequalities have widened more than inequalities in life expectancy alone.
© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association. All rights reserved.