Urban‑rural disparities in old‑age mortality vary systematically with age: evidence from Germany and England & Wales
Public Health, 102–109 (2022)
Population aging — which tends to be more pronounced in rural than in urban areas — poses important challenges for facilitating equal opportunities for aging well and ‘aging in place.’ Unmet health care needs among the older rural population may result in poorer health and higher mortality, but the scientific evidence of a systematic rural mortality disadvantage at older ages is scarce. We argue that systematic urban–rural mortality differences by age may be found if the confounding effect of life expectancy is considered.
Nationwide population-based study.
We draw on age- and sex-specific data for the population aged 60+ years in NUTS-3 regions in Germany (2016–2018) and LAU-1 regions in England & Wales (2017–2019). To account for the confounding effect of life expectancy, we compare age-specific mortality only across urban and rural regions with similar life expectancy levels. We quantify statistical uncertainty with bootstrapping.
The results show a remarkable shift from higher mortality in urban regions to higher mortality in rural regions with increasing age, when controlling for the confounding effect of life expectancy. That is, the urban mortality disadvantage is strongest for the population aged 60–79 years, whereas the pattern shifts toward a rural mortality disadvantage for the population aged 80 years and older. This pattern is present at all levels of life expectancy, for both sexes and in both countries.
The shift from urban to rural excess mortality over age suggests that regions may vary in their capability to respond to arising health issues across older ages. This systematic mortality disadvantage is of high public health relevance and should be considered in designing policies to reduce regional mortality disparities.