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West J Med. 2000 Jan;172(1):22-4.

Relation between income inequality and mortality: empirical demonstration.

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Institutions and Social Statistics, Branch Statistics, Canada Ottawa, Canada K1A 0T6.


Objective To assess the extent to which observed associations between income inequality and mortality at population level are statistical artifacts. Design Indirect "what if" simulation using observed risks of mortality at individual level as a function of income to construct hypothetical state-level mortality specific for age and sex as if the statistical artifact argument were 100% correct. Method Data from the 1990 census for the 50 US states plus Washington, DC, were used for population distributions by age, sex, state, and income range; data disaggregated by age, sex, and state from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were used for mortality; and regressions from the national longitudinal mortality study were used for the individual-level relation between income and risk of mortality. Results Hypothetical mortality, although correlated with inequality (as implied by the logic of the statistical artifact argument), showed a weaker association with the level of income inequality in each state than the observed mortality. Conclusions The observed associations in the United States at the state level between income inequality and mortality cannot be entirely or substantially explained as statistical artifacts of an underlying individual-level relation between income and mortality. There remains an important association between income inequality and mortality at state level above anything that could be accounted for by any statistical artifact. This result reinforces the need to consider a broad range of factors, including the social milieu, as fundamental determinants of health.

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