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Racial/Ethnic Differences in Early-Life Mortality in the United States


Rogers, Richard G.; Lawrence, Elizabeth M.; Hummer, Robert A.; & Tilstra, Andrea M. (2017). Racial/Ethnic Differences in Early-Life Mortality in the United States. Biodemography and Social Biology, 63(3), 189-205. PMCID: PMC5729754


U.S. early-life (ages 1–24) deaths are tragic, far too common, and largely preventable. Yet demographers have focused scant attention on U.S. early-life mortality patterns, particularly as they vary across racial and ethnic groups. We employed the restricted-use 1999–2011 National Health Interview Survey–Linked Mortality Files and hazard models to examine racial/ethnic differences in early-life mortality. Our results reveal that these disparities are large, strongly related to differences in parental socioeconomic status, and expressed through different causes of death. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks experience 60 percent and Mexican Americans 32 percent higher risk of death over the follow-up period, with demographic controls. Our finding that Mexican Americans experience higher early-life mortality risk than non-Hispanic whites differs from much of the literature on adult mortality. We also show that these racial/ethnic differences attenuate with controls for family structure and especially with measures of socioeconomic status. For example, higher mortality risk among Mexican Americans than among non-Hispanic whites is no longer significant once we controlled for mother’s education or family income. Our results strongly suggest that eliminating socioeconomic gaps across groups is the key to enhanced survival for children and adolescents in racial/ethnic minority groups.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Biodemography and Social Biology


Rogers, Richard G.
Lawrence, Elizabeth M.
Hummer, Robert A.
Tilstra, Andrea M.