US racial/ethnic mortality gap adjusted for population structure
Epidemiology, 34:3, 402–410 (2023)
Background: US racial–ethnic mortality disparities are well documented and central to debates on social inequalities in health. Standard measures, such as life expectancy or years of life lost, are based on synthetic populations and do not account for the real underlying populations experiencing the inequalities.
Methods: We analyze US mortality disparities comparing Asian Americans, Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans/Alaska Natives to Whites using 2019 CDC and NCHS data, using a novel approach that estimates the mortality gap, adjusted for population structure by accounting for real-population exposures. This measure is tailored for analyses where age structures are fundamental, not merely a confounder. We highlight the magnitude of inequalities by comparing the population structure-adjusted mortality gap against standard metrics’ estimates of loss of life due to leading causes.
Results: Based on the population structure-adjusted mortality gap, Black and Native American mortality disadvantage exceedsmortality from circulatory diseases. The disadvantage is 72% among Blacks (men: 47%, women: 98%) and 65% among Native Americans (men: 45%, women: 92%), larger than life expectancy measured disadvantage. In contrast, estimated advantages for Asian Americans are over three times (men: 176%, women: 283%) and, for Hispanics, two times (men: 123%; women: 190%) larger than those based on life expectancy.
Conclusions: Mortality inequalities based on standard metrics’ synthetic populations can differ markedly from estimates of the population structure-adjusted mortality gap. We demonstrate that standard metrics underestimate racial–ethnic disparities through disregarding actual population age structures. Exposure-corrected measures of inequality may better inform health policies around allocation of scarce resources.