Background: Inequalities in mortality are often presumed to exist at all ages. Here we examine whether this is true.
Methods: We conducted an ecological study of mortality in England for 1997-99 using routinely collected public records. We used a (smoothed) single year of age rate of mortality for males and females by the multiple deprivation quintile of their ward of residence, for all and specific causes to assess if inequalities varied by age.
Results: For most ages, a greater mortality risk exists for those living in the most deprived compared with the least deprived quintile of wards. However, during late adolescence there is equality. The equalization occurs at the age of 17-19 years. There is a longer period of 10 years for females and 20 years for males of convergence and then divergence centred on late adolescence and young adulthood. The equalization is driven principally through a heightened exposure to the risk of land transport accidents and a resulting higher than expected rate of mortality for the least deprived rather than a decrease in risk for the most deprived.
Conclusions: It seems likely that an increase in risk taking associated with late adolescence combined with exposure to a relatively dangerous transport environment leads to large increases in risk for young people in the least deprived parts of England. As a result mortality inequality disappears at this age.