Excess mortality among blacks and whites in the United States

Arline T. Geronimus, John Bound, Timothy A. Waidmann, Marianne M. Hillemeier, Patricia B. Burns

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Background: Although the general relations between race, socioeconomic status, and mortality in the United States are well known, specific patterns of excess mortality are not well understood. Methods: Using standard demographic techniques, we analyzed death certificates and census data and made sex-specific population-level estimates of the 1990 death rates for people 15 to 64 years of age. We studied mortality among blacks in selected areas of New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Alabama (in one area of persistent poverty and one higher-income area each) and among whites in areas of New York City, metropolitan Detroit, Kentucky, and Alabama (one area of poverty and one higher-income area each). Sixteen areas were studied in all. Results: When they were compared with the nationwide age-standardized annual death rate for whites, the death rates for both sexes in each of the poverty areas were excessive, especially among blacks (standardized mortality ratios for men and women in Harlem, 4.11 and 3.38; in Watts, 2.92 and 2.60; in central Detroit, 2.79 and 2.58; and in the Black Belt area of Alabama, 1.81 and 1.89). Boys in Harlem who reached the age of 15 had a 37 percent chance of surviving to the age of 65; for girls, the likelihood was 65 percent. Of the higher-income black areas studied, Queens-Bronx had the income level most similar to that of whites and the lowest standardized mortality ratios (men, 1.18; women, 1.08). Of the areas where poor whites were studied, Detroit had the highest standardized mortality ratios (men, 2.01; women, 1.90). On the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in Appalachia, and in Northeast Alabama, the ratios for whites were below the national average for blacks (men, 1.90; women, 1.95). Conclusions: Although differences in mortality rates before the age of 65 between advantaged and disadvantaged groups in the United States are sometimes vast, there are important differences among impoverished communities in patterns of excess mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1552-1558
Number of pages7
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 21 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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