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Open Access Research article

Regional variations in and correlates of disability-free life expectancy among older adults in China

Jufen Liu12, Gong Chen1, Iris Chi3, Jilei Wu1, Lijun Pei1, Xinming Song1, Lei Zhang1, Lihua Pang1, Youli Han4 and Xiaoying Zheng1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Population Research, Peking University, Beijing, China

2 Institute of Reproductive and Child Health, Peking University Health Science Center, Beijing, China

3 School of Social Work, University of Southern California, CA, USA

4 School of Health Administration and Education, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:446  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-446

Published: 29 July 2010



Considerable socioeconomic and health inequalities have been reported in China. However, because of a lack of appropriate data, limited research has been conducted on variations in disability-free life expectancy (DFLE) among older adults. This study aimed to use the most up-to-date disability survey data to explore geographical variations in DFLE at age 60 in China and to identify the socioeconomic and health care factors that partially account for these variations.


This study used 2006 mortality data extrapolated from the 1990 and 2000 Census and disability data from a national disability survey conducted in 2006. Disability was performance based and was diagnosed by trained physicians. DFLE was calculated by region using the Sullivan method. Multiple linear regression models by gender were conducted to explore correlates of DFLE.


DFLE at age 60 varied widely by region, from 11.2 to 20.8 years in 2006. Per capita gross domestic product, proportion of urban residents, and access to health care were the primary factors associated with geographical variations in DFLE.


The pattern of differences in DFLE by region mirrors the pattern of regional economic development in China. Countermeasures to decrease regional differences in DFLE include accelerating regional economic development and improving health care distribution.