Open Access Research article

The prognosis for individuals on disability retirement An 18-year mortality follow-up study of 6887 men and women sampled from the general population

Thorne Wallman12*, Hans Wedel3, Saga Johansson45, Annika Rosengren4, Henry Eriksson4, Lennart Welin4 and Kurt Svärdsudd1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Family Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology Section, University Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden

2 Centre for Research & Development in Primary Care (AmC), Eskilstuna, Sweden

3 Nordic School of Public Health, Gothenburg, Sweden

4 Department of Medicine, Sahlgrenska University Hospital/Östra, Gothenburg, Sweden

5 Department of Epidemiology, AstraZeneca R&D Mölndal, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:103  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-103

Published: 22 April 2006



Several studies have shown a markedly higher mortality rate among disability pensioners than among non-retired. Since most disability pensions are granted because of non-fatal diseases the reason for the increased mortality therefore remains largely unknown. The aim of this study was to evaluate potential explanatory factors.


Data from five longitudinal cohort studies in Sweden, including 6,887 men and women less than 65 years old at baseline were linked to disability pension data, hospital admission data, and mortality data from 1971 until 2001. Mortality odds ratios were analyzed with Poisson regression and Cox's proportional hazards regression models.


1,683 (24.4%) subjects had a disability pension at baseline or received one during follow up. 525 (7.6%) subjects died during follow up. The subjects on disability pension had a higher mortality rate than the non-retired, the hazards ratio (HR) being 2.78 (95%CI 2.08–3.71) among women and 3.43 (95%CI 2.61–4.51) among men. HR was highest among individuals granted a disability pension at young ages (HR >7), and declined parallel to age at which the disability pension was granted. The higher mortality rate among the retired subjects was not explained by disability pension cause or underlying disease or differences in age, marital status, educational level, smoking habits or drug abuse. There was no significant association between reason for disability pension and cause of death.


Subjects with a disability pension had increased mortality rates as compared with non-retired subjects, only modestly affected by adjustments for psycho-socio-economic factors, underlying disease, etcetera. It is unlikely that these factors were the causes of the unfavorable outcome. Other factors must be at work.