Background: Knowledge on health inequalities in early life is less complete and less consistent compared to the well-documented differentials in the adult population. This study examines the presence and strength of the association between parental education and mortality during different periods of childhood and young adulthood, and changes in the association over time.
Methods: Longitudinal individual level data was used in a register follow-up of 15 years. The data includes an 11% sample of the Finnish population with an over-sample of 80% of all deaths between ages 1-24. Mortality rates and relative indices of inequality (RII) were calculated by parental education, sex, age group and cause of death.
Results: Lower parental education was associated with a higher risk of mortality during the whole period 1990-2004. The differentials were largest among 1-4-year-old children (RII=2.4, 95% CI 1.57-3.56 for males and RII=4.5, 2.71-7.32 for females) and among young men aged 15-19 (RII=2.4, 2.00-2.98). The educational gradient was sharper in accidental and violent causes of death, but deaths from diseases contributed to differentials for both sexes among the youngest and the oldest.
Conclusion: The association between parental education and mortality in young age was consistent, although distinctively patterned by sex, age, and cause of death. The results provide some support for the idea of equalisation of health inequalities during the child-youth transition. The convergence of differences in late childhood, and re-emergence in early adulthood particularly among men was, however, related to changes in the cause-composition of deaths.
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