Open Access Research article

Socio-economic status and overall and cause-specific mortality in Sweden

Marianne Weires1*, Justo Lorenzo Bermejo1, Kristina Sundquist2, Jan Sundquist2 and Kari Hemminki12

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Molecular Genetic Epidemiology, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Im Neuenheimer Feld 580, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

2 Karolinska Institute, Center for Family and Community Medicine, 141 83 Huddinge, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:340  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-340

Published: 30 September 2008



Previous studies have reported discrepancies in cause-specific mortality among groups of individuals with different socio-economic status. However, most of the studies were limited by the specificity of the investigated populations and the broad definitions of the causes of death. The aim of the present population-based study was to explore the dependence of disease specific mortalities on the socio-economic status in Sweden, a country with universal health care. Another aim was to investigate possible gender differences.


Using the 2006 update of the Swedish Family-Cancer Database, we identified over 2 million individuals with socio-economic data recorded in the 1960 national census. The association between mortality and socio-economic status was investigated by Cox's proportional hazards models taking into account the age, time period and residential area in both men and women, and additionally parity and age at first birth in women.


We observed significant associations between socio-economic status and mortality due to cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, to cancer and to endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases. The influence of socio-economic status on female breast cancer was markedly specific: women with a higher socio-economic status showed increased mortality due to breast cancer.


Even in Sweden, a country where health care is universally provided, higher socio-economic status is associated with decreased overall and cause-specific mortalities. Comparison of mortality among female and male socio-economic groups may provide valuable insights into the underlying causes of socio-economic inequalities in length of life.