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Gender differences in socioeconomic inequality in mortality
  1. C A Mustard1,2,3,
  2. J Etches2
  1. 1Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine
  2. 2Institute for Work & Health, Toronto, Canada
  3. 3Population Health Program, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
  1. Correspondence to:
 Cameron A Mustard
 Institute for Work & Health, 481 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada;


Objectives: There is uncertainty about whether position in a socioeconomic hierarchy confers different mortality risks on men and women. The objective of this study was to conduct a systematic review of gender differences in socioeconomic inequality in risk of death.

Methods: This research systematically reviewed observational cohort studies describing all cause or cause specific mortality for populations aged 25–64 in developed countries. For inclusion in the review, mortality had to be reported stratified by gender and by one or more measures of socioeconomic status. For all eligible studies, five absolute and six relative measures of the socioeconomic inequality in mortality were computed for male and female populations separately.

Results: A total of 136 published papers were reviewed for eligibility, with 58 studies deemed eligible for inclusion. Of these eligible studies, 20 papers published data that permitted the computation of both absolute and relative measures of inequality. Absolute measures of socioeconomic mortality inequality for men and women generally agreed, with about 90% of studies indicating that male mortality was more unequal than female mortality across socioeconomic groups. In contrast, the pattern of relative inequality results across the 20 studies suggested that male and female socioeconomic inequality in mortality was equivalent.

Conclusions: Inferences about gender differences in socioeconomic inequality in mortality are sensitive to the choice of inequality measure. Wider understanding of this methodological issue would improve the clarity of the reporting and synthesis of evidence on the magnitude of health inequalities in populations.

  • review
  • socioeconomic status
  • mortality
  • gender
  • health inequality

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  • A previous version of this paper was presented to the Second International Conference of the International Society for Equity in Health, Toronto, Canada June 2002 and to the International Epidemiology Association meetings, Montreal, Canada, August 2002.