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J Health Soc Behav. 2013 Jun;54(2):166-82. doi: 10.1177/0022146513481230. Epub 2013 May 30.

Explaining the widening education gap in mortality among U.S. white women.

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Harvard University, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Over the past half century the gap in mortality across education levels has grown in the United States, and since the mid-1980s, the growth has been especially pronounced among white women. The reasons for the growth among white women are unclear. We investigated three explanations-social-psychological factors, economic circumstances, and health behaviors-for the widening education gap in mortality from 1997 to 2006 among white women aged 45 to 84 years using data from the National Health Interview Survey Linked Mortality File (N = 46,744; 4,053 deaths). Little support was found for social-psychological factors, but economic circumstances and health behaviors jointly explained the growing education gap in mortality to statistical nonsignificance. Employment and smoking were the most important individual components. Increasing high school graduation rates, reducing smoking prevalence, and designing work-family policies that help women find and maintain desirable employment may reduce mortality inequalities among women.


education; gradient; health disparities; mortality; women’s health

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