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8th November 2018

North-South divide in early deaths linked to poverty

Research at the University of Manchester has linked socioeconomic deprivation to the divide in early deaths between the North and South of England
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North-South divide in early deaths linked to poverty
Photo © Matt Harrop (cc-by-sa/2.0)

A recent study conducted by data scientists at the University of Manchester highlights socioeconomic deprivation as a central factor in the widening of the north-south divide in mortality rates of young adults.

The study suggested that Northerners aged between 25-44 are more likely to die from accidents, suicides, alcohol misuse, cardiovascular complications, and drug poisoning than Southerners.

The results from this research show the appearance of a North-South divide in mortality rate throughout the mid-1990s, with a deepening of this continuing up until 2016. After adjusting for sex, age, and socioeconomic deprivation, the north-east has the highest mortality rates. London has the lowest.

This divide has shown a rapid expansion in deaths linked to accidents, and drug and alcohol misuse, with the gap for suicide rates in men emerging more recently.

This data shows a higher mortality risk for men than for women. The paper attributes this to socioeconomic deprivation putting higher pressure on men.

Professor Kontopantelis commented on this, suggesting deprivation “is felt by both sexes, but maybe it is more damaging for men.”

Mortality rates for cancer are higher in lower-income backgrounds due to worse living conditions, where smoking and alcohol abuse is common. Also strongly associated with deprivation was drug abuse, mainly heroin and crack addiction, leading to overdoses.

Previous research has highlighted the connection between low socioeconomic status, unemployment and risk of suicide, with the risk of suicide being twice as likely for men and one and a half times more likely for women.

The disparity between male and female mortality is also seen in alcohol-related deaths. In the most deprived areas, men show a five times higher risk of alcohol-related death. Women, however, show a four times higher risk.

Unskilled men are 10-20 times more likely to die from alcohol-related causes than those in the professional class. Fatal work-related accidents had higher rates in the north, often related to variations in regional industries.

Manchester, historically the world’s first industrialised city, has a large proportion of industries and occupations that show a higher risk of work-related mortality. This is due to associated risks within industrial companies and factory work, a more common job for those in less deprived regions.

However, women in the north are more likely to die young from cancers, particularly those linked to “risky behaviours” such as smoking and drinking.

‘Sexual behaviour risk factors’ have also meant that more northern women suffer from cervical cancer due to poor pastoral education. This included a lower age at first intercourse and a failure to use a condom with, on average, a greater number of sexual partners.

Socioeconomic depravation in the north of England tends to be higher and more well-spread. The study attributes two-thirds of the excess of deaths in the north to this deprivation. The remaining deaths are linked to other factors such as environmental and genetic influences.

Concentrations of wealth, opportunity, and power in the south, specifically in London, are “having a malign effect on the rest of the country.”

The risk of fragmentation within the country increases as long-term imbalances in resources and investments within the NHS, local government and city infrastructure continue to exist.

Kontopantelis recommends that the government grant more money to the North, particularly to the NHS-funded organisations.

He believes that “the North has been left behind by investment.”

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