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Mortality inequality: the good news from a county-level approach


Currie, Janet; Schwandt, Hannes (2016). Mortality inequality: the good news from a county-level approach. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30(2):29-52.

Abstract

In this essay, we ask whether the distributions of life expectancy and mortality have become generally more unequal, as many seem to believe, and we report some good news. Focusing on groups of counties ranked by their poverty rates, we show that gains in life expectancy at birth have actually been relatively equally distributed between rich and poor areas. Analysts who have concluded that inequality in life expectancy is increasing have generally focused on life expectancy at age 40 to 50. This observation suggests that it is important to examine trends in mortality for younger and older ages separately. Turning to an analysis of age-specific mortality rates, we show that among adults age 50 and over, mortality has declined more quickly in richer areas than in poorer ones, resulting in increased inequality in mortality. This finding is consistent with previous research on the subject. However, among children, mortality has been falling more quickly in poorer areas with the result that inequality in mortality has fallen substantially over time. We also show that there have been stunning declines in mortality rates for African Americans between 1990 and 2010, especially for black men. Finally we offer some hypotheses about causes for the results we see, including a discussion of differential smoking patterns by age and socioeconomic status.

Abstract

In this essay, we ask whether the distributions of life expectancy and mortality have become generally more unequal, as many seem to believe, and we report some good news. Focusing on groups of counties ranked by their poverty rates, we show that gains in life expectancy at birth have actually been relatively equally distributed between rich and poor areas. Analysts who have concluded that inequality in life expectancy is increasing have generally focused on life expectancy at age 40 to 50. This observation suggests that it is important to examine trends in mortality for younger and older ages separately. Turning to an analysis of age-specific mortality rates, we show that among adults age 50 and over, mortality has declined more quickly in richer areas than in poorer ones, resulting in increased inequality in mortality. This finding is consistent with previous research on the subject. However, among children, mortality has been falling more quickly in poorer areas with the result that inequality in mortality has fallen substantially over time. We also show that there have been stunning declines in mortality rates for African Americans between 1990 and 2010, especially for black men. Finally we offer some hypotheses about causes for the results we see, including a discussion of differential smoking patterns by age and socioeconomic status.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Uncontrolled Keywords:Equity, justice, inequality, normative criteria, measurement, health, health behavior
Language:English
Date:April 2016
Deposited On:29 Sep 2016 12:54
Last Modified:29 Sep 2016 12:54
Publisher:American Economic Association
ISSN:0895-3309
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.30.2.29

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