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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