Socioeconomic determinants of male mortality in Europe: the absolute and relative income hypotheses revisited

Jeroen Spijker, Leo van Wissen


This paper investigates the association between both absolute and relative income and male mortality in Europe from around 1980 to the late 1990s. Mortality data from the WHO Mortality Database is used to test if the relative versus absolute income hypotheses works out differently for different causes of death. Moreover, we make a distinction between developments in Western and Eastern Europe. Confounding variables are also introduced using appropriate time lags that are different according to the anticipated effect of the covariates. Results showed that absolute prosperity (GDP per capita) was more often significant than income inequality (Gini coefficient) both in Western and Eastern Europe. Absolute prosperity was significant in six cause-of-death categories studied in Western Europe, including total mortality, and in all seven in Eastern Europe, whereas in each part of Europe relative income only had an impact in, respectively, three and four causes (including total mortality in Eastern Europe). Moreover, the size of the effect of absolute income was almost everywhere stronger. The main differences between West and East are the time lags: the effect of both absolute and relative income on non-cancer mortality in Eastern Europe is contemporaneous, whereas it has a long time lag (15 and 10 years, respectively) in the West. The observed differences between East and West reflect the influence of the societal context on the effects of income on mortality. 

Jeroen SPIJKER, Post-doc researcher,  Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics, Edifici E-2, Campus de la Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain. E-mail:

Leo Van WISSEN, Professor, Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen, PO Box 800, 9700 AV,  Groningen, the Netherlands. E-mail: Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, PO Box 11650, 2502 AR The Hague, the Netherlands. E-mail:


DOI: 10.4402/genus-181


mortality; causes of death; income; time lags; Europe

Full Text



ISSN: 2035-5556

Reg. Tribunale di Roma n. 3321/54