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Swiss study links social class to early death

Caritas is calling for a flexible retirement age for low income workers

A new study by a leading charity says the less skilled have a significantly lower life expectancy than those with a university degree.

The Catholic charity, Caritas, said the findings were clear evidence that blue-collar workers should be allowed to retire earlier.

Although the findings come as no great surprise – the link between poverty and earlier death has been well documented – Jürg Krummenacher, Caritas director, says it is the first time that data from 16 cantons has been collated into a national study.

“The link is obvious, unfortunately, as blue collar workers on average die four to five years before a graduate… Unqualified workers are much more affected by incapacity,” Krummenacher told swissinfo.

“Academics or graduates working in the professions or as scientists live longer, for instance, than those working in construction or industry.”

Caritas hopes that the results of the study – “The poor die younger” – will bring the inequality in life expectancy in Switzerland to political and public attention.

Flexible retirement age

Krummenacher said that until now attention has focused only on the financing and democratic aspects of retirement.

“We think the pension system should be reformed in the sense that the flexible retirement age is introduced and this flexible retirement age should also be [determined by] social factors,” explained Krummenacher.

“It also means that people with low wages should be [able to] retire early as is already possible for people with higher wages.


Krummenacher said it was unjust that low wage earners did not normally have the chance to retire earlier even though they were likely to contributed to the pension system for longer and had a shorter life expectancy than those on higher wages.

He said a flexible retirement age could be funded by raising the retirement age for women by two years to 64, as planned.

“With this measure the state will save SFr400 million,” he said.


The retirement age is currently a controversial topic in Switzerland. Earlier this month construction workers held a one-day strike across the country over an agreement to lower the retirement age to 60 rather than 65.

Unions and employers have now reached an accord to gradually introduce retirement at 60 from the middle of next year.

For Krummenacher, it is important to bring the issue of life expectancy into the political arena.

“We want to make politicians and the population aware of the link between social class and life expectancy and then the political discussion will have a new orientation.”

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson and Scott Capper

A new study shows that less skilled workers are likely to die up to five years earlier than those working in the professions.

The charity which conducted the study is calling for the introduction of a flexible retirement age for unskilled workers.

They say it could be funded by the SFr400 million that would be saved by raising the retirement age for women by two years to 64.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR