Wednesday, October 21, 2020

New study shows widening mortality rate gap between rural and metro working-age residents

"A recent study by Syracuse University sociology professor Shannon Monnat shows that mortality rates are higher for U.S. working-age residents who live in rural areas instead of metro areas, and the gap is getting wider," according to a press release. "The study 'Trends in U.S. Working-Age non-Hispanic White Mortality: Rural-Urban and Within-Rural Differences' was published recently by Population Research and Policy Review. Monnat, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University, said no single cause of death is to blame for the growing disparity."

Death rates are declining in both rural and metro areas, but not as much in rural areas, resulting in the widening gap. The trend is especially pronounced among women, Monnat says. Rural mortality rates were lower or comparable to urban rates for decades, but rural rates began to outstrip urban rates in the 1990s, and the gap has continued to widen, especially among non-Hispanic whites. 

It's important to note that this study is about the comparative change in rates, not the rates themselves. Though mortality rates across the board are declining, mortality rates among Black Americans, for example, remain substantially higher than those of non-Hispanic whites, Monnat reports. So the most interesting facet of this study is why mortality rates for non-Hispanic whites haven't declined as much as other groups.

Other recent research has found that the diverging mortality rate among rural non-Hispanic whites was driven by screenable cancers, cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, and influenza/pneumonia. Monnat notes that economic changes have also likely played a role, though there are no studies that track mortality trends across different types of rural economies. Poor diet, higher smoking rates, lower seatbelt use, a more sedentary lifestyle, poverty, underemployment, and lack of access to health care are also likely factors, Monnat reports.

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