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Steadily upward

Life expectancy in Greece defies crisis

Greek life expectancy is on the rise. Between 2004 and 2013, life expectancy at birth rose more than two full years from 79.3 to 81.4, keeping Greece above the EU average (up 2.2 years to 80.6) and on par with some richer countries like Germany (up 1.6 years to 80.9). Within the country, the change has not been driven by rich regions only: Epirus (Ipeiros), the country’s poorest by GDP per capita (2011), saw a rise in life expectancy similar to that of Athens (Attiki).

This data is useful because life expectancy, an important barometer of a popu­lation’s overall health, can be quite sensitive to shocks. A classic example is the rapid increase in life expectancy in East Germany after unification to West Ger­man levels. Of course, it is not a perfect measure. Drug shortages, for instance, will leave patients with specific conditions more vulnerable, but this vulnerability may not necessarily be reflected in the larger numbers.

Imperfections notwithstanding, however, one could be forgiven for expecting the worst for Greece. Over the summer there was no shortage of media cover­age of the challenges facing the country’s healthcare system after several years of macroeconomic contraction and cuts in public spending. Yet these numbers indicate a certain resilience in Greece not hitherto reported.

We show in a forthcoming article [1] that such a non-response is not necessarily an exception – economic crises appear to have only minor effects on lifespan in rich countries. Combined with other major social and political changes, however, the effects become stronger. In other words, it is uncertain whether Greek life expectancy will remain unaffected in coming years.

Roland Rau and Christina Bohk-Ewald, University of Rostock, Germany

[1] Christina Bohk, Roland Rau (2015): Impact of Economic Conditions and Crises on Mortality and its Predictability. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie (in press).