Family Socioeconomic Status and Early Life Mortality Risk in the United States

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Maternal and Child Health Journal

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Objectives: We examine the association between several dimensions of parental socioeconomic status (SES) and all-cause and cause-specific mortality among children and youth (ages 1–24) in the United States. Methods: We use Cox proportional hazard models to estimate all-cause and cause-specific mortality risk based on data from the 1998 to 2015 National Health Interview Survey-Linked Mortality Files (NHIS-LMFs), restricted to children and youth ages 1–17 at the time of survey followed through age 24, or the end of the follow-up period in 2015 (N = 377,252). Results: Children and youth in families with lower levels of mother’s education, father’s education, and/or family income-to-needs ratio exhibit significantly higher all-cause mortality risk compared with children and youth living in higher SES families. For example, compared to children and youth living with mothers who earned college degrees, those living with mothers who have not graduated high school experience 40% higher risk of early life mortality over the follow-up period, due in part to higher mortality risks of unintentional injuries and homicides. Similarly, children/youth whose fathers did not graduate high school experience a 41% higher risk of dying before age 25 compared to those with fathers who completed college. Conclusions: Today’s children and youth experience clear disparities in mortality risk across several dimensions of parental SES. As the U.S. continues to lag behind other high-income countries in health and mortality, more attention and resources should be devoted to improving children’s health and well-being, including the family and household contexts in which American children live.


Mortality; Early life; Socioeconomic status; Disparities; National Health Interview Survey


Family, Life Course, and Society



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