Journal Article

Changing contribution of area-level deprivation to total variance in age at death: a population-based decomposition analysis

Seaman, R. J., Riffe, T., Caswell, H.
BMJ Open, 9:3, e024952 (2019)
Open Access


Objectives Two processes generate total variance in age at death: heterogeneity (between-group variance) and individual stochasticity (within-group variance). Limited research has evaluated how these two components have changed over time. We quantify the degree to which area-level deprivation contributed to total variance in age at death in Scotland between 1981 and 2011.
Design Full population and mortality data for Scotland were obtained and matched with the Carstairs score, a standardised z-score calculated for each part-postcode sector that measures relative area-level deprivation. A z-score above zero indicates that the part-postcode sector experienced higher deprivation than the national average. A z-score below zero indicates lower deprivation. From the aggregated data we constructed 40 lifetables, one for each deprivation quintile in 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011 stratified by sex.
Primary outcome measures Total variance in age at death and the proportion explained by area-level deprivation heterogeneity (between-group variance).
Results The most deprived areas experienced stagnating or slightly increasing variance in age at death. The least deprived areas experienced decreasing variance. For males, the most deprived quintile life expectancy was between 7% and 11% lower and the SD is between 6% and 25% higher than the least deprived. This suggests that the effect of deprivation on the SD of longevity is comparable to its effect on life expectancy. Decomposition analysis revealed that contributions from between-group variance doubled between 1981 and 2011 but at most only explained 4% of total variance.
Conclusions This study adds to the emerging body of literature demonstrating that socio-economic groups have experienced diverging trends in variance in age at death. The contribution from area-level deprivation to total variance in age at death, which we were able to capture, has doubled since 1981. Area-level deprivation may play an increasingly important role in mortality inequalities.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.