Long-Term Trends in Black and White Mortality in the Rural United States: Evidence of a Race-Specific Rural Mortality Penalty


Purpose: The rural mortality penalty—growing disparities in rural-urban macro-level mortality rates—has persisted in the United States since the mid 1980s. Substantial intrarural differences exist: rural places of modest population size, close to urban areas, experience a greater mortality burden than the most rural locales. This research builds on recent findings by examining whether a race-specific rural mortality penalty exists; that is, are some rural areas more detrimental to black and/or white mortality than others?. Methods: Using data from the Compressed Mortality File from 1968 to 2012, we calculate annual age-adjusted, race-specific mortality rates for all rural-urban regions designated by the Rural-Urban Continuum Codes. Indicators for population, socioeconomic status, and health infrastructure, as a proxy for access to care, are used as predictors of race-specific mortality in multivariable regression models. Findings: Three important results emerge from this analysis: (1) there is a substantial mortality disadvantage for both black and white rural Americans, (2) the most advantageous regions of mortality for blacks exhibit higher mortality than the most disadvantageous regions for whites, and (3) access to health care is a much stronger predictor of white mortality than black mortality. Conclusions: The rural mortality penalty is evident in race-specific mortality trends over time, with an added disadvantage in black mortality. The rate of mortality improvement for rural blacks and whites lags behind their same-race, urban counterparts, creating a diverging gap in race-specific mortality trends in rural America.

Publication Title

Journal of Rural Health