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09.11.2018 | Original contributions | Sonderheft 1/2019 Open Access

Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie 1/2019

Social inequality in working life expectancy in Sweden

Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie > Sonderheft 1/2019
PhD Prof. Roland Kadefors, Kerstin Nilsson, Per-Olof Östergren, Lars Rylander, Maria Albin



In Sweden there is a socioeconomic divide between white and blue collar workers with respect to the risk for premature exit from working life. Disability pension has long represented a major reason behind early exits.


The present investigation aimed at studying the effect on socioeconomic groups of new guidelines issued by the Swedish government in 2006, limiting the possibilities for applicants to be granted pension on medical grounds.

Material and method

The study was based on register data comprising the prevalence of disability pension and premature age pension in different occupations in the age group 55–64 years, comparing the years 2006 and 2011.


It was found that in 2011 under the new guidelines, newly approved disability pensions had dropped by 70%. Women were affected more than men. The drop in disability pensions affected applicants within the two most prevalent diagnosis groups, mental disorders (a drop by 58%) and musculoskeletal disorders (a drop by 87%). In the same time period, the percentage in the age range 55–64 years choosing premature age pension more than doubled. An increase in the number of premature age pensions was more common in blue collar occupational groups than in white collar workers. Occupation had a higher impact on working life expectancy than country of birth.


There are strong indications that many applicants, particularly blue collar workers, who had been unable to be granted disability pension under the new operational guidelines, instead choose premature retirement, a costly alternative for many individuals with already low pension benefits. The results indicate a tendency of passing on the societal costs of early labor market exits to various economic compensation arrangements, as well as to the individuals themselves.

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