Cross-national disparities in sex differences in life expectancy with and without frailty


Background: with continued ageing, levels of frailty are an increasing concern. Women live longer than men, but how life expectancies (LE) with frailty differ between men and women and whether sex differences are the same for all European countries is unknown.

Objective: to compare sex differences in LE in phenotypic frailty categories and disability at age ≥50 between European countries.

Design: the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE).

Subjects: a total of 50,351 people aged ≥50 from SHARE wave 4 (included countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden).

Methods: the SHARE Frailty Instrument for Primary Care and the Global Activity Limitation Indicator were combined to define four phenotypic frailty and disability categories: robust, pre-frail, frail and severely limited. LEs with each state by sex and country were calculated using Sullivan’s method.

Results: at age 70, the LE robust ranged from 4.1 to 10.4 years (men) and 3.0 to 8.9 years (women), LE pre-frail from 0.8–3.1 years (men) and 2.2–5.5 years (women), LE frail from 0.1–1.8 years (men) and 0.4–5.5 years (women) and LE with severe activity limitation from 1.9 to 4.4 years (men) and 2.9 to 7.5 years (women). At all ages and both sexes the fewest years were spent frail.

Conclusions: this study is the first to compare differences in LE in frailty categories across European countries. In most European countries, years spent robust (free of frailty or limitation) are significantly less for women than men, perhaps due to socio-economic as well as biological factors.

Age and Ageing 2014; 43(2):222–228