Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States

Am J Public Health. 1998 Jul;88(7):1074-80. doi: 10.2105/ajph.88.7.1074.


Objectives: This study examined associations between income inequality and mortality in 282 US metropolitan areas.

Methods: Income inequality measures were calculated from the 1990 US Census. Mortality was calculated from National Center for Health Statistics data and modeled with weighted linear regressions of the log age-adjusted rate.

Results: Excess mortality between metropolitan areas with high and low income inequality ranged from 64.7 to 95.8 deaths per 100,000 depending on the inequality measure. In age-specific analyses, income inequality was most evident for infant mortality and for mortality between ages 15 and 64.

Conclusions: Higher income inequality is associated with increased mortality at all per capita income levels. Areas with high income inequality and low average income had excess mortality of 139.8 deaths per 100,000 compared with areas with low inequality and high income. The magnitude of this mortality difference is comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, suicide, and homicide in 1995. Given the mortality burden associated with income inequality, public and private sector initiatives to reduce economic inequalities should be a high priority.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality
  • Linear Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Population