Declining regional disparities in mortality in the context of persisting large inequalities in economic conditions: the case of Germany
International Journal of Epidemiology, 49:2, 486–496 (2020)
Background: Subnational regional mortality inequalities are large and appear to be mostly increasing within industrialized countries, although comparative studies across high-income countries are scarce. Germany is an important country to examine because it continues to experience considerable economic disparities between its federal states, in part resulting from its former division.
Methods: We analyse state-level mortality in Germany utilizing data from a newly constructed regional database based on the methodology of the Human Mortality Database. We compare time trends (1991–2015) in the German state-level standard deviation in life expectancy to that of other large, wealthy countries and examine the association between mortality and economic inequalities at the regional level. Finally, using contour-decomposition methods, we investigate the degree to which age patterns of mortality are converging across German federal states.
Results: Regional inequalities in life expectancy in Germany are comparatively low internationally, particularly among women, despite high state-level inequalities in economic conditions. These low regional mortality inequalities emerged 5–10 years after reunification. Mortality is converging over most ages between the longest- and shortest-living German state populations and across the former East–West political border, with the exception of an emerging East–West divergence in mortality among working-aged men.
Conclusions: The German example shows that large regional economic inequalities are not necessarily paralleled with large regional mortality disparities. Future research should investigate the factors that fostered the emergence of this unusual pattern in Germany.
Keywords: Germany, OECD countries