Objective: Many studies have examined the correlation between socioeconomic status (SES) and mortality in Australia, but little is known about the correlation in rural areas and most studies have not explored the trends in SES differentials in mortality. This ecological study examines this correlation and explores the impact of the national strategies to reduce SES differentials in mortality in a rural area.
Methods: Mortality data for residents in the New England Health Area, New South Wales (NSW), 1981 to 1995, were analysed. Twenty Local Government Areas (LGAs) in New England were ranked and aggregated into 4 groups according to a composite SES indicator from the 1996 census, and age/sex adjusted mortality rates were calculated for each group and compared. Poisson regression models were used to assess the linear trends in mortality for 1981-95.
Results: A strong relationship between working age adult mortality and SES was found for both sexes. The rates for the most disadvantaged LGAs were significantly higher than the least disadvantaged LGAs for both sexes. The mortality rate was consistently higher for the most disadvantaged LGAs than the least disadvantaged LGAs.
Conclusion and implication: Although there has been an overall decline in death for all 4 groups of LGAs, the gap between the most disadvantaged and the least disadvantaged groups has widened over the last 15 years. This widening gap in death rates suggests that the strategies implemented as part of the Health for All initiative to reduce inequalities in mortality differentials have not been effective in this rural area.