Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research
Working Paper

Black-White Differentials in Cause-Specific Mortality in the United States during the 1980s: The Role of Medical Care and Health Behaviors

Irma T. Elo & Greg L. Drevenstedt

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Abstract — In this paper, we examine black-white differences in cause-specific mortality during the 1980s when black-white disparities in mortality widened in the United States. We group causes of death to those amenable to medical intervention, those closely linked to health behaviors or residential location, and all other causes combined. At older ages, we treat cardiovascular disease, stroke, and forms of cancer not amenable to medical or behavioral intervention as distinct causes. We conduct separate analyses by gender and age group. Causes of death amenable to medical intervention and those linked to health behaviors and residential location accounted for over 60% of the absolute black-white difference in male and female mortality at ages 25-44, male mortality at ages 45-74, but somewhat less than 50% of the black-white difference in female mortality at these older ages. The relative black excess risk was most pronounced for causes amenable to medical intervention with and without adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics.