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The ‘golden generations’ in historical context

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Assumptions about future mortality are more important than those for factors such as fertility, migration, disability trends or real interest rates for cost projections of the U.S. Old Age, Survivors, Disability and Health Insurance scheme. Recently, one factor has been assumed to be the key driver of future mortality in both official British population projections and actuarial ones: a `cohort effect' associated with a group who were born in a period centred on the early 1930s who have been identified as having experienced particularly rapid improvements in mortality rates and are often referred to as the `golden generations' or `golden cohorts'. The concept of `cohort effects' is discussed; limitations of national-level cohort data considered; and methods for identifying such effects are reviewed. Particular attention is given to the analysis of populations which have been identified as having clear cut cohort effects; those of Britain and Sweden in the later part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, as well as the contemporary British population. The likely magnitude of such effects is discussed using a stylised model to assess the extent to which members of the `golden generations' are especially privileged.

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