Objectives: This study was conducted to examine the relationships of the several socioeconomic position indicators with the mortality risk in a representative longitudinal study of South Korea.
Methods: The 1998 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was conducted on a cross-sectional probability sample of South Korean households, and it contained unique 13-digit personal identification numbers that were linked to the data on mortality from the National Statistical Office of Korea. Of 5,607 males and females, 264 died between 1999 and 2003. Cox's regression was used to estimate the relative risks (RR) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI) of mortality.
Results: Socioeconomic differences in mortality were observed after adjustments were made for gender and age. Compared with those people having college or higher education, those people without any formal education had a greater mortality risk (RR = 2.21, 95% CI = 1.12-4.40). The mortality risk among manual workers was significantly greater than that for the non-manual workers (RR = 2.73, 95% CI = 1.47-5.06). A non-standard employment status was also associated with an increase in mortality: temporary or daily workers had a greater mortality risk than did the full-time workers (RR = 3.01, 95% CI = 1.50-6.03). The mortality risk for the low occupational class was 3.06 times greater than that of the high and middle occupational classes (95% Cl = 1.75-5.36). In addition, graded mortality differences according to equivalized monthly household income were found. A reduction of monthly household income by 500 thousand Korean Won (about 400 US dollars) was related with a 20% excess risk of mortality. Self-reported poor living standards were also associated with an increased risk of mortality. Those without health insurance had a 3.63 times greater risk of mortality than the insured (95% CI = 1.61-8.19).
Conclusions: This study showed the socioeconomic differentials in mortality in a national longitudinal study of South Korea. The existence of socioeconomic mortality inequalities requires increased social discussion on social policies in Korean society. Furthermore, the mechanisms for the socioeconomic inequalities of mortality need to be explored in future studies.