Reducing health inequalities in Europe

The significant variances in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality that have long been observed among EU countries are shrinking: so says a report released by the European Commission on September 9.


According to this study, the difference between the longest and shortest life expectancy in the EU-27 decreased by 17% for men between 2007 and 2011, and 4% for women between 2006 and 2011. As for infant mortality, the gap between then highest and lowest rates dropped from 15.2 to7.3 deaths for 1,000 live births between 2001 and 2011. Average infant mortality in the Union also diminished over this period, from 5.7 to 3.9 deaths for 1,000 live births.


In 2009, the Commission adopted a strategy for health inequalities entitled “Solidarity in Health: Reducing Health Inequalities in the EU.” The recent report makes it possible to assess progress on the five major challenges cited in the strategy. The report also examines several factors underlying health inequalities and concludes that social inequalities in the area of health are linked to disparities in living conditions and other data such as income, unemployment rate and level of education.


European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg stated: “This development is encouraging. However, our commitment must be unwavering in order to address the continued gaps in health between social groups and between regions and Member States, as shown in this report. Action to bridge health inequalities across Europe must remain a priority at all levels.”


Below are the main data collected on discrepancies between countries, regions and social groups:

  • Swedish men exhibit the longest life expectancy in Europe: 79.9 years, i.e., a difference of nearly 12 years compared to the Member State with the lowest life expectancy for men (68.1 years).
  • For women, France has the longest life expectancy: 85.7 years, i.e., 8 years more than the Member State with the lowest life expectancy for women (77.8 years).
  • For years of healthy life, there is a 19-year gap among men between the highest and lowest figures in the EU (according to 2011 data). This gap nears 18.4 years for women.
  • In 2010, the discrepancy in life expectancy at birth between the richest and poorest regions in the EU was 13.4 years for men and 10.6 years for women.
  • Also in 2010, the infant mortality rate was greater than 10 deaths for 1,000 live births in seven regions of the EU, 2.5 times greater than the European average of 4.1 deaths for 1,000 live births.
  •  For the same year, the gap in life expectancy at the age of 30 for men with the lowest level of education varied from 3 to 17 years depending on the Member State concerned. This gap was slightly lower for women: 1 to 9 years.