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Not Only The Rich Live Longer

Ministry of Manpower (8 October 2007): Not Only The Rich Live Longer


TODAY (4 October 2007): The Numbers Tell the Story


Not Only The Rich Live Longer
- TODAY, 8 October 2007

We refer to the letter “The Numbers Tell the Story” (TODAY, 4 Oct) by Dr Vincent Chia who cited statistics from the United States and the United Kingdom which showed a positive correlation between socio-economic status and life expectancy.

2.   We thank Mr Chia for his inputs, but care should be taken in extrapolating these findings to Singapore. One major factor that can influence life expectancy is access to good healthcare and this is equally accessible by Singaporeans rich and poor alike. This explains why our infant mortality rate – a reliable indicator of general health delivery to the entire population - is one of the lowest in the world. At present, private insurers in Singapore do not differentiate premiums for annuity products according to one's earnings or housing type.

3.   Dr Chia further suggested that most of the very old in Singapore are from the higher socio-economic groups who lived in larger homes. This is not so when compared to the general distribution of households (see chart). More importantly, professional actuaries do not make conclusions about life expectancy based on the distribution of housing types. This would be inaccurate and a wrong approach.

4.   We would like to reassure CPF members that the National Longevity Insurance Scheme will be fair to all participants. It will consult actuarial experts who use best practices to determine life-expectancy of various groups of Singaporeans. Premiums will be adjusted to equalise groups with different life expectancies.

Residents by Type of Dwelling 2007


Total Resident Population


Residents Age 85 and Over





HDB 1- & 2-Room



HDB 3-Room



HDB 4-Room or larger



Private Housing



Others (e.g. shophouses, aged homes)









Source: Department Of Statistics


The Numbers Tell the Story
- TODAY, 4 October 2007

I refer to the compulsory annuity scheme. I would like to point out that there is good statistical evidence to support a strong correlation between socio-economic status and life expectancy in developed countries. As such, the compulsory annuity scheme should take this fact into consideration.

It is well-known among sociologists and epidemiologists that social class or socio-economic status is a prominent life expectancy indicator, and is assessed through occupation, income, housing or educational level.

We can begin by looking at epidemiological data from the United States. From the paper published last year by Gopal K Singh and Mohammad Siahpush in the International Journal of Epidemiology, entitled Widening Socioeconomic Inequalities in US Life Expectancy, 1980–2000, it is clear that life expectancy for less-deprived groups is notably higher than that for more-deprived groups.

An extract states: "Those in less-deprived groups experienced a longer life expectancy at each age than their counterparts in more-deprived groups. Between 1980 and 1982, the overall life expectancy at birth was 2.8 years longer for the least-deprived group than for the most-deprived group (75.8 years versus 73.0). By the 1998 to 2000 period, the absolute difference in life expectancy at birth increased to 4.5 years (79.2 years vs 74.7)."

Singh and Siahpush concluded that: "Between 1980 and 2000, those in higher socio-economic groups experienced larger gains in life expectancy than those in more-deprived groups, contributing to the widening gap."

Thus, there is not only a greater life expectancy for those with a higher socio- economic status but the gap in life expectancy between the higher and lower socio-economic groups is progressively widening.

Not surprisingly, we see a similar trend in the United Kingdom. A paper by its Office for National Statistics (ONS) gives figures on trends in life expectancy by social class in England and Wales between 1972 and 2001.

The data shows that while life expectancy at birth for both the higher and lower social classes have improved, it is evident that life expectancy at birth for those from a higher social class is significantly better than those from the other end of the spectrum. There is likewise an increasing gap in life expectancy between the two classes.

Apart from life expectancy, it is interesting to note that socio-economic status is an important determinant of disability among older Asians. The effect of socio-economic characteristics is also strongest when predicting perceived health. According to the National University of Singapore's Department of Sociology and the Asia Research Institute, sociologists have discovered that perception of income adequacy is the most important predictor of health.

Closer to home, The Old-Old in Singapore, a paper published by Ang Seow Long and Edmond Lee from the Singapore Department of Statistics, suggests a similar link between socio-economic status and life expectancy.

The old-old refers to those 85 years and above. If the home of an old-old Singaporean is any indication of his socio-economic status, then it is significant that in 1999, 43.5 per cent of the old-old live in HDB four-room or larger flats. In comparison, 29.1 per cent of old-old Singaporeans live in HDB three-room flats, while the remaining 11 per cent live in HDB one- or two-room flats.

In other words, a large proportion of those who live to 85 years and beyond do not live in one- or two-room flats. Close to half of them, in fact, live in four-room or larger flats.

If it is true that a majority of the old-old are from higher socio-economic groups, there might be a weakness in the compulsory annuity scheme. As it works on the principle of risk pooling, CPF members who die early may not live to see the benefits of the scheme. In fact, their premiums may go towards paying the annuity payouts of other members.

We must ensure that lower socio-economic groups are not unduly burdened with the care of old-old from higher socio-economic sectors. Only then can the annuity scheme be of greater aid to those old-old Singaporeans who are truly in need of such payouts.