NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Determinants of Mortality

David M. Cutler, Angus S. Deaton, Adriana Lleras-Muney

NBER Working Paper No. 11963
Issued in January 2006
NBER Program(s):   AG   HC

Mortality rates have fallen dramatically over time, starting in a few countries in the 18th century, and continuing to fall today. In just the past century, life expectancy has increased by over 30 years. At the same time, mortality rates remain much higher in poor countries, with a difference in life expectancy between rich and poor countries of also about 30 years. This difference persists despite the remarkable progress in health improvement in the last half century, at least until the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In both the time-series and the cross-section data, there is a strong correlation between income per capita and mortality rates, a correlation that also exists within countries, where richer, better-educated people live longer. We review the determinants of these patterns: over history, over countries, and across groups within countries. While there is no consensus about the causal mechanisms, we tentatively identify the application of scientific advance and technical progress (some of which is induced by income and facilitated by education) as the ultimate determinant of health. Such an explanation allows a consistent interpretation of the historical, cross-country, and within-country evidence. We downplay direct causal mechanisms running from income to health.

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Published: Cutler, David, Angus Deaton and Adriana Lleras-Muney. "The Determinants Of Mortality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2006, v20(3,Summer), 97-120.

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