Trends in U.S. Working-Age non-Hispanic White Mortality: Rural–Urban and Within-Rural Differences

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31 Scopus citations


After decades of lower or comparable mortality rates in rural than in urban areas of the U.S., numerous studies have documented a rural mortality penalty that started in the 1990s and has grown since the mid-2000s. The widening of the gap appears to be especially pronounced among non-Hispanic (NH) whites. However, the rural U.S. is not monolithic, and some rural places have experienced much larger mortality rate increases than others over the past 30 years. Drawing on restricted mortality files from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), I examine metro versus nonmetro and intra-nonmetro (divisional and economic dependency) all-cause and cause-specific mortality trends among working-age (25–64) NH white males and females, 1990–2018. Results show that the nonmetro mortality penalty is wide and growing and is pervasive across multiple disease and injury categories. Trends for females are particularly concerning. Smaller nonmetro declines in mortality from cancers and cardiovascular disease (throughout the 1990s and 2000s) and larger increases in metabolic and respiratory diseases, suicide, alcohol-related, and mental/behavioral disorders (throughout the 2010s) collectively drove the growth in the nonmetro disadvantage. There are also large divisional disparities (which are growing for females), with particularly poor trends in New England, South Atlantic, ES Central, WS Central, and Appalachia and more favorable trends in the Mid-Atlantic, Mountain, and Pacific. Mining-dependent counties have diverged from the other economic dependency types since the mid-2000s due to multiple causes of death, whereas farming counties have comparatively lower mortality rates. High and rising mortality rates across a variety of causes and rural places, some of which have been occurring since the 1990s and others that emerged more recently, suggest that there is not one underlying explanation. Instead, systemic failures across a variety of institutions and policies have contributed to rural America’s troubling mortality trends generally and within-rural disparities more specifically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)805-834
Number of pages30
JournalPopulation Research and Policy Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Deaths of despair
  • Mortality
  • NH whites
  • Nonmetro
  • Population health
  • Rural

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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