Differences in life expectancy between four Western countries and their Caribbean dependencies, 1980–2014

S. Verstraeten*, J. A. M. van Oers, J. P. Mackenbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
128 Downloads (Pure)


In the Caribbean, life expectancy in politically independent territories has increasingly diverged from that of territories that remained affiliated to their former colonizers. Because these affiliated territories differ in degree of political independence, they are not all governed in the same way. We assessed whether differences in life expectancy trends between Caribbean dependencies and their Western administrators were related to their degree of political independence, and which causes of death contributed to divergence or convergence in life expectancy.

Analysis of age-standardized death rates and decomposition of life expectancy differences between France, the Netherlands, UK, USA and their Caribbean dependencies by age and cause-of-death during the period 1980–2014.

Life expectancy differences between Western countries and their dependencies have generally increased for men and narrowed for women, but trends have been much more favorable in the French- than in the Dutch-administered territories. The strongest contributions to widening gaps in life expectancy between Western countries and their dependencies were from mortality from cardiovascular diseases (ischemic heart disease) and external causes (homicide and traffic accidents).

Dependencies with a stronger political affiliation to a Western country experienced more favorable life expectancy developments than dependencies that had more autonomy during the 1980–2014 period. The underlying mortality differences with Western countries are largely comparable among Caribbean territories but differ in magnitude, most notably for cardiovascular disease and external causes. This suggests that increases in a territory’s political autonomy impairs the diffusion of new knowledge and techniques, and/or reduces government’s effectiveness in implementing policies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-92
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020




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