Social class, race/ethnicity and all-cause mortality in the US: longitudinal results from the 1986-1994 National Health Interview Survey

Eur J Epidemiol. 2004;19(8):777-84. doi: 10.1023/b:ejep.0000036569.39399.68.


Background: Occupational social class has become a leading indicator of social inequalities in health. In the US, economic sectors are distinct with respect to wages, benefits, job security, promotion ladders and working conditions. The growing economic sector of self-employed workers is characterized by lower wages and benefits, and greater job insecurity. Little attention has been given to the association between economic sector measures of social class and all-cause mortality, and there have been no studies of mortality among the self-employed.

Methods: To determine risk of death associated with economic sector social class, this study entails a longitudinal analysis of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual household survey representative of the US population for the period 1986-1994 (n = 377,129). The sample includes 201,566 men and 175,563 women, aged 24-65 years of age, in the civilian labor force.

Results: Non- professionals are at higher risk of death than professionals across all sectors and self-employed professionals are at higher risk of death than professionals employed in government and production. Additional social class differences are accounted for by age, race, gender and marital status. Results are also partially explained by income. After controlling for income, Black professionals did not show a lower risk of death than Black non-professionals and self-employed Hispanic professionals had a higher risk of death than Hispanic professionals employed in the private sector.

Conclusions: Given the growth of self-employment in the US, the noted increased risk of death among self-employed professionals merits further investigation and monitoring.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cause of Death
  • Demography
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Occupational Health
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology