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UC takes part in a study about the evolution of inequality in mortality in Europe and in the USA

30 september
Paula Santana and Cláudia Costa
Paula Santana and Cláudia Costa
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In the last decades there has been a rather favourable evolution in mortality inequality indicators in Portugal, allowing the country to get closer to the other European countries. This is one of the conclusions of an international study with the participation of researchers Paula Santana and Cláudia Costa, from the Centre of Studies in Geography and Spatial Planning Studies (CEGOT) of the University of Coimbra (UC).

Involving scientists from 15 US and European universities, the research focused on analysing the evolution of mortality inequalities in the United States of America (US) compared to Europe between 1990 and 2018. The analysis in the different countries was carried out by age group, gender and poverty level of the place of residence. In the case of the American population, the study also included ethnic inequalities.

"In 1990 the mortality of the Portuguese population was very different from other European countries, especially among the youngest. However, it rapidly changed and in 2005 the death rates were similar to the wealthiest countries in Europe," says Paula Santana, full professor at the UC and coordinator of the study about Portugal.

The results of the study were published today in the prestigious PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), journal of the American Academy of Sciences, concluding that "geographical inequalities in mortality happen mainly among young adults. That is, it became evident that for children and young people inequalities in mortality are not influenced by the area of residence: poor and rich areas have the same mortality patterns", refer Paula Santana and Cláudia Costa, co-authors of the scientific article.

Comparing the US with Europe, the results are not good for the American people. The study shows that "in 1990 the life expectancy of Americans in the wealthier areas was slightly lower than the life expectancy of Europeans. However, life expectancy was considerably lower for Americans living in the poorest areas. In the case of African Americans, life span was always lower, both in wealthy and poor areas, when compared to other Americans and Europeans," state Paula Santana and Cláudia Costa.

However, evolution seems to have been positive throughout the period analysed (1990-2018), noticing that “in 2018 the difference in life expectancy between African Americans and other Americans was almost fifty-fifty, due to the reduction in mortality from malignant tumours, homicides, AIDS and perinatal or infant death. This reduction has been most significant in the poorest areas and among the youngest people”. One can also conclude that “the greatest gains in health - reflected in the increase in life expectancy - were due to the decrease in mortality due to proper health care, i.e. causes of death that were prevented by adequate access to health care," Cláudia Costa says.

However, "despite the improvement in the life expectancy of the African-American population, the decrease in mortality is still not enough, placing the US health indicators studied in this article in a disadvantageous position when compared with European indicators", Costa adds.

The work now published, entitled "Inequality in Mortality between Black and White Americans by Age, Place, and Cause, and in Comparison to Europe, 1990-2018", was carried out following a previous study dedicated to the evolution of mortality inequality in 11 OECD countries, including Portugal, published in the Journal of Fiscal Studies. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14755890/2021/42/1).

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Abridged version in English: Diana Taborda

Original news article: Cristina Pinto

Notícias UC