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Trends in health equity in mortality in the United States, 1969-2019.



Health equity is a significant concern of public health, yet a comprehensive assessment of health equity in the United States over time is lacking. While one might presume that overall health will improve with rising living standards, no such presumption is warranted for health equity, which may decline even as average health improves.


To assess trends in national and state-level health equity in mortality for people up to age 25, ages 25-64 and aged 65 and older.


A health equity metric was calculated as the weighted mean life expectancy relative to a benchmark level, defined as the life expectancy of the most socially-privileged subpopulation (white, non-Latinx males with a college education or higher).We analyzed 114,558,346 death records from the National Center for Health Statistics, from January 1, 1969 to December 31, 2019 to estimate health equity annually at the national and state-level. Using ICD-9/ICD-10 classification codes, inequities in health were decomposed by major causes of death.


From 1969 to 2019, health equity in the United States improved (+0.36 points annually [95% CI 0.31-0.41]), albeit at a slower rate over the last two decades (+0.08 points annually [95% CI 0.03-0.14] from 2000 to 2019, compared to +0.57 points annually from 1969 to 2000 [95% CI 0.50-0.65]). Health equity among those under 25 improved substantially (+0.82 points annually [95% CI 0.75-0.89]) but remained flat for adults 25-64 (-0.01 points annually [95% CI -0.03-0.003]) For those over 65, health equity displayed a downward trend (-0.08 points annually [95% CI -0.09 to -0.07]). Gains in equity from reduced unintentional injuries and homicides have been largely offset by rising mortality attributable to drug overdoses.


The US is failing to advance health equity, especially for adults. Keeping policy-makers accountable to a summary measure of health equity may help coordinate efforts at improving population health.

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