PhD: Household Status Plays Bigger Role in Mortality than Marital Status


Today, Anne Herm from the Tallinn University School of Governance, Law and Society will defend her Doctoral Thesis, which focused on the connections between household groups and mortality. The thesis shows that the connection between the household status and mortality is very varied in the older generations.

The thesis is based on the population register and census data from Belgium, which allowed access to older generations starting from the 1990s. The data proved valuable, as it offered additional insights into the smallest forms of households in older generations (e.g. cohabitation with a partner).

The thesis showed that the older generations of the population are affected in many ways, sometimes even contrastingly, by the demographic shift and the current trends in the population. “The decrease of mortality is increasing the proportion of old people still living with their spouses. However, the changes in infancy and family patterns (incl. decrease in births and increase in divorce) tend to decrease the probability of sharing households with families,” Herm said.

“The research showed that institutional households, such as foster homes and old people’s homes, held much greater mortality among old people than regular households,” Herm added. When factoring in the health limitations of old people, the proportions balanced somewhat, but are still rather askew. The thesis also confirmed earlier findings by showing that the risk of mortality is lower among old people still living with their spouses.

The author added that the household status is more clearly connected to mortality than marital status. “Research confirms that the differences in mortality are more likely caused by differences in household statuses, not marital statuses. Even though the mortality risk is considerably larger in single people, widow(er)s and divorcees, the differences between single and married people is much smaller. Thus, living alone, whether as a divorcee or a widow(er) does not conceive a larger risk of mortality than living with a spouse,” Herm explained and said that the difference in mortality in different households diminishes as the age of people rises. “Single women in older age groups are much less likely to die when living alone, than those still living with their husbands. People who reach 100, tend to live in household types that are associated with less mortality risk,” she said.

The Doctoral thesis “Living arrangements and mortality of older adults: Evidence from the Belgian population registers at the turn of the 21st century” will be defended on 5 June at 16:00 at Tallinn University (M-648, Uus-Sadama 5). The thesis was supervised by Professor Allan Puur from Tallinn University and Michel Poulain, a Senior Researcher of Tallinn University and Professor Emeritus of Louvain Catholic University. The opponents are Professor Emily Grundy from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Senior Lecturer Elinia Einiö from Helsinki University.

The thesis is accessible via the Tallinn University Academic Library E-vault ETERA.