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Social inequalities in life expectancy and mortality during the transition period of economic crisis (1993–2010) in Korea

Mia Son1, Youngtae Cho2*, Juhwan Oh34, Ichiro Kawachi4, Junhyeok Yi5 and Soonman Kwon2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Preventive Medicine, Medical College, Kangwon National University, Kangwon, South Korea

2 School of Public Health, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

3 Institute of Health Policy and Management, Medical Research Center, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea

4 Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, 02115, USA

5 Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, Daejeon, Korea

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International Journal for Equity in Health 2012, 11:71  doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-71

Published: 21 November 2012



This study examines social inequalities in life expectancy and mortality during the transition period of the Korean economic crisis (1993–2010) among Korean adults aged 40 and over.


Data from the census and the national death file from the Statistics Korea are employed to calculate life expectancy and age-specific-death-rates (ASDR) by age, gender, and educational attainment for five years: 1993, 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2010. Absolute and relative differences in life expectancy and Age-Specific Death Rates by educational attainment were utilized as proxy measures of social inequality.


Clear educational gradient of life expectancy was observed at age 40 by both sexes and across five time periods (1993, 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2010). The gradient became notably worse in females between 1993 and 2010 compared to the trend in males. The educational gradient was also found for ASDR in all five years, but it was more pronounced in working age groups (40s and 50s) than in elderly groups. The relative disadvantage of ASDR among working age Korean adults, both males and females, became substantially worse over time.


Social inequalities in life expectancy and ASDR of the working age group across socioeconomic status over time were closely related to the widening of the social difference created by the macroeconomic crisis and the expansion of neo-liberalism in Korea.

Social inequalities; Life expectancy; Mortality; Economic crisis; Korea inequality in health