Decomposing county-level working-age mortality trends in the United States between 1999–2001 and 2015–2017


Studies have documented significant geographic divergence in U.S. mortality in recent decades. However, few studies have examined the extent to which county-level trends in mortality can be explained by national, state, and metropolitan-level trends, and which county-specific factors contribute to remaining variation. Combining vital statistics data on deaths and Census data with time-varying county-level contextual characteristics, we use a spatially explicit Bayesian hierarchical model to analyze the associations between working-age mortality, state, metropolitan status and county-level socioeconomic conditions, family characteristics, labor market conditions, health behaviors, and population characteristics between 2000 and 2017. Additionally, we employ a Shapley decomposition to illustrate the additive contributions of each changing county-level characteristic to the observed mortality change in U.S. counties between 1999–2001 and 2015–2017 over and above national, state, and metropolitan–nonmetropolitan mortality trends. Mortality trends varied by state and metropolitan status as did the contribution of county-level characteristics. Metropolitan status predicted more of the county-level variance in mortality than state of residence. Of the county-level characteristics, changes in percent college-graduates, smoking prevalence and the percent of foreign-born population contributed to a decline in all-cause mortality over this period, whereas increasing levels of poverty, unemployment, and single-parent families and declines manufacturing employment slowed down these improvements, and in many nonmetropolitan areas were large enough to overpower the positive contributions of the protective factors.

Spatial Demography
Nick Graetz
Nick Graetz
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Princeton University

My research interests include population health, structural racism, housing policy, small area estimation, and causal mediation analysis.