Tracking Disparity: Trends in ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in mortality, 1981 - 2004

Published online: 
02 August 2007


This is the fourth report in the Decades of Disparity series. It updates the earlier reports by providing estimates of ethnic inequalities and income gradients in mortality (all-cause and by-cause) for 2001- 04.

The report is an output of the New Zealand Census - Mortality Study, an ongoing record linkage study that links (anonymously and probabilistically) census records to mortality records for the three years following each census (since 1981).

The key finding of this latest report is that both ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in mortality may no longer be widening, as they have done ever since the mid 1980s. However, before we can be certain that there has been a recent change in trend, at least one further datapoint will be necessary (ie for 2006 - 09).

This pattern of a recent stabilisation or narrowing in mortality inequalities (from 1996-99 to 2001-04) does not apply to all groups. For example, low income young adults have shown no reduction in mortality over the whole period (from 1981 - 2004), while their high income counterparts have shown a steady improvement, leading to a continuous widening of income inequality in mortality among young adults. Also, the recent improvement in mortality has been greater for Maori than for Pacific ethnic groups, so Pacific mortality - while still intermediate - is now closer to the Maori than the European/Other level.

The report also shows that cardiovascular disease is becoming relatively less important (although it is still the leading cause), and cancer relatively more important, as a contributor to both ethnic and income inequalities in mortality.

Finally, the report estimates that socioeconomic mediation accounts for at least half of the Maori : European/Other inequality in mortality, and (in working age groups) at least half of the widening in this inequality that occurred from the mid 1980s to the mid to late 1990s.

Similarly, the possible more recent stabilisation or narrowing of mortality inequalities (from 1996-99 to 2001-04) may in turn reflect the recent narrowing in social inequalities between Maori and European/Other ethnic groups.

Publishing information

  • Date of publication:
    02 August 2007
  • Hardcopy date of publication:
    02 August 2007
  • ISBN:
    978-0-478-19151-6 (print), 978-0-478-19152-3 (online)
  • HP number:
  • Citation:
    Blakely T, Tobias M, Atkinson J, Yeh L-C, Huang K. 2007. Tracking Disparity: Trends in ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in mortality, 1981–2004. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
  • Ordering information:
    Only soft copy available to download
  • Copyright status:

    Owned by the Ministry of Health and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.

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