Background and objectives: Studies on socioeconomic health disparities often suffer from a lack of uniform data and methodology. Using high quality, census-linked data and sensible inequality measures, this study documents the changes in absolute and relative mortality differences by education in Finland, Norway and Sweden over the period 1971 to 2000.
Methods: The age-standardised mortality rates and the population exposures for three educational categories were computed from detailed data provided by the national statistical offices. Mortality disparities by education were assessed using two range measures (rate differences and rate ratios), and two Gini-like measures (the average inter-group difference (AID) and the Gini coefficient (G)). The formulae for the decomposition of the change in the AID into (1) the contribution of change in population composition by education, and (2) the contribution of mortality change were introduced.
Results: Mortality decreases were often greater for high than for medium and low education. Both relative and absolute mortality disparities tend to increase over time. The magnitude and timing of the increases in absolute disparities vary by country. Both the rate differences and the AIDs have increased since the 1970s in Norway and Sweden, and since the 1980s in Finland. The contributions of the changes in population composition to the total AID increase were substantial in all countries, and for both sexes. The mortality contributions were substantial for males in Norway and Sweden.
Conclusions: The study reports increases in absolute mortality disparity, and its components. This trend needs to be further studied and addressed by policies.