January 30, 2017

Several studies in recent years have reported rising mortality among middle-aged white Americans, especially women and those with less than a high school education. The California Endowment, which previously funded the Center’s California Poverty Study, is now funding the Center to examine whether a similar mortality trend is occurring in California, Minnesota, and Virginia. The research aim, more broadly, is to examine mortality trends by race-ethnicity and educational status and the factors with which they are correlated. Under separate contracts, foundations in Missouri and Kansas are funding the Center to conduct similar analyses for their states. All three funders share an interest in using these projects as a platform for raising awareness about the importance of social determinants of health—for all racial and ethnic groups.

The Center plans to produce two issue briefs for each state, the first focused on mapping the specific counties in which mortality rates are changing, documenting the characteristics of the population in which this trends are occurring, and clarifying the causes of death that appear to be responsible. The analysis will include a special focus on stress-related conditions, such as deaths from suicide, drug overdoses, and cardiovascular disease. The second issue brief will examine the characteristics of the places in which the mortality trends are occurring. The goal will be to create a profile of the kinds of counties where mortality rates are increasing. Speed is important to the funders, and for expediency, the Center will examine mortality at the county level—these data are readily available from the Mortality and Population Data System (MPDS) at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, a partner in this project. MPDS data include ICD codes for underlying causes of death for nearly all U.S. deaths since 1950. The Pittsburgh team can also access education microdata from the National Center for Health Statistics.