Christopher Ruhm, University of Virginia

Has Mortality Risen Disproportionately For the Least Advantaged?



Abstract

We examine whether disadvantaged population groups have experienced the worst mortality trends during the 21st century by conducting a detailed analysis of changes in mortality rates from 2001-2017 for 320 population subgroups stratified by sex, race/ethnicity, age, and education quartile.
Taken together, the results largely reject this hypothesis and are difficult to reconcile with unidimensional explanations focusing on broad economic or social trends. Specifically, the analysis reveals three primary findings. First, the most favorable mortality trends are usually observed for non-Hispanic blacks and the most detrimental changes for non-Hispanic whites.

Second, the worst mortality experiences generally occur among young adults, although with some heterogeneity across specific groups. Third, the evidence does not indicate that mortality reductions increased monotonically with education. This is especially true for males where the performance of the lowest education quartile is often surprisingly favorable and with the worst outcomes frequently observed for the third (next-to-highest) quartile.

Christopher J. Ruhm is a Professor of Public Policy & Economics at the University of Virginia.  He received his doctorate in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984.  Prior to joining UVA, in 2010, he held faculty positions at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Boston University, and was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Brandeis University. 

During the 1996-97 academic year he served as Senior Economist on President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, where his main responsibilities were in the areas of health policy, aging and labor market issues. He is currently a Research Associate in the Health Economics, Health Care Policy, and Children’s Programs of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany.

Professor Ruhm’s recent research has focused on the role of government policies in helping parents with young children balance the competing needs of work and family life, and on examining how various aspects of health are produced – including the growth and sources of drug poisoning deaths in the United States, the rise in obesity and the relationship between macroeconomic conditions and health.  His earlier research includes study of the determinants of health and risky behaviors, effects of job displacements and mandated employment benefits, transition into retirement, and the causes and consequences of alcohol and illegal drug policies.

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