Background: Studies of socioeconomic inequalities in mortality consistently point to higher death rates in lower socioeconomic groups. Yet how these between-group differences relate to the total variation in mortality risk between individuals is unknown. Methods: We used data assembled and harmonized as part of the Eurothine project, which includes census-based mortality data from 11 European countries. We matched this to national data from the Human Mortality Database and constructed life tables by gender and educational level. We measured variation in age at death using Theil's entropy index, and decomposed this measure into its between-and within-group components. Results: The least-educated groups lived between three and 15 years fewer than the highest-educated groups, the latter having a more similar age at death in all countries. Differences between educational groups contributed between 0.6% and 2.7% to total variation in age at death between individuals in Western European countries and between 1.2% and 10.9% in Central and Eastern European countries. Variation in age at death is larger and differs more between countries among the least-educated groups. Conclusions: At the individual level, many known and unknown factors are causing enormous variation in age at death, socioeconomic position being only one of them. Reducing variations in age at death among less-educated people by providing protection to the vulnerable may help to reduce inequalities in mortality between socioeconomic groups.
2012. Vol. 10, 3- p.