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Are social inequalities in mortality in Britain narrowing? Time trends from 1978 to 2005 in a population-based study of older men
  1. S E Ramsay1,
  2. R W Morris1,
  3. L T Lennon1,
  4. S G Wannamethee1,
  5. P H Whincup2
  1. 1
    Department of Primary Care & Population Sciences, Royal Free Hospital and University College Medical School, London NW3 2PF, UK
  2. 2
    Department of Community Health Sciences, St George’s University of London, London SW17 0RE, UK
  1. Sheena E Ramsay, Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free Hospital and University College Medical School, London NW3 2PF, UK; s.ramsay{at}


Objective: To examine whether social inequalities in all-cause and coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality in Britain have reduced between 1978 and 2005.

Design: A prospective study of a socioeconomically representative population.

Setting: 24 British towns.

Participants: 7735 Men, aged 40–59 years at recruitment in 1978–1980 and followed up until 2005 through the National Health Service Central Register (164 120 person-years).

Main outcome measures: Relative hazards and absolute risk differences for all-cause and CHD death comparing manual with non-manual social classes, calculated for different calendar periods.

Results: 3009 Deaths from all causes (1003 from CHD) occurred during follow-up. The overall hazard ratio (manual versus non-manual) was 1.56 (95% CI 1.45 to 1.69, p<0.001) for all-cause mortality and 1.54 (95% CI 1.35 to 1.76, p<0.001) for CHD mortality. The relative difference between these social groups tended to increase over time. The overall relative increase in hazard ratio comparing manual with non-manual groups over a 20-year calendar period was 1.22 (95% CI 0.83 to 1.80, p = 0.31) for all-cause mortality and 1.75 (95% CI 0.89 to 3.45, p = 0.11) for CHD mortality. The absolute difference in probability of survival to age 65 years between non-manual and manual groups fell from 29% in 1981 to 19% in 2001 for all-cause mortality and from 17% to 7% for CHD mortality.

Conclusion: Relative differences in all-cause and CHD mortality between manual and non-manual social class groups persisted and may have increased during this period. Absolute differences in mortality between these social groups decreased as a result of falling overall mortality rates. Greater effort is needed to reduce social inequalities in all-cause and CHD mortality in the new millennium.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Funding: The British Regional Heart Study is a British Heart Foundation Research Group. SR is funded by a UK MRC Special Training Fellowship in Health Services Research and Health of the Public.

  • Ethics approval: The British Regional Heart Study has local (from each of the districts in which the study was based) and multicentre ethical committee approvals.

  • The views expressed in this study are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funding bodies.

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