Background: Earlier investigations have shown mortality effects of community socio-economic resources. However, the sex differences have not been clear and the estimates may well have been biased because of inadequate control for community factors affecting both the socio-economic resources and mortality. The objective of this study was to see whether effects appeared when time-invariant community characteristics were controlled by including community dummies (fixed effects) and whether there were differences between women and men.
Methods: Discrete-time hazard models for all-cause mortality were estimated for 1981-2002 for all Norwegians aged 60-89, using register data. There were 730000 deaths among 1.7 million people observed during 19 million person-years. Average education was measured for 433 municipalities for each of the 22 years.
Results: According to the simplest models, a high average education in the municipality is associated with increased mortality. Control for population size (time-averaged) reversed the effects. Inclusion of municipality dummies instead of population size, to control also for additional unobserved time-invariant municipality characteristics, gave very different results: the effects were even stronger for men, while those for women were no longer significant. The results were quite robust to alternative specifications, including the use of a lagged average-education variable.
Conclusion: The study supports the idea that community socio-economic resources may affect mortality and suggests that sex differentials may deserve more attention. It also illustrates the importance of controlling for time-invariant community factors. Unless these can be easily measured, one may in future investigations consider establishing longitudinal data and use a fixed-effects approach such as here.