Long-term death study shows manual workers still worse off

Despite major health gains over the last few decades, the mortality gap between 'manual' workers and 'non-manual' workers remains unchanged, with manual workers significantly worse off for many causes of death, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Australian health inequalities 2: trends in male mortality by broad occupational group compares long term trends (1966-2001) among Australian males in two broad occupational groups reflecting socio-economic status, namely 'manual' and 'non-manual' workers.

AIHW Report author Michael de Looper says that death rates in both groups have been falling steadily since the early 1970s.

'Overall mortality declined from 450 deaths per 100,000 population in 1966 for men in manual occupations, to 250 deaths per 100,000 in 2001-a decline of 44%.'

'For males in non-manual work, mortality declined from 390 deaths per 100,000 in 1966 to 160 deaths in 2001-a decline of 59%.

But this also shows that there has been a substantial overall mortality gap between the two groups over this time period which has not narrowed' says Mr de Looper.

The report looks at 17 causes of death while concentrating on four in particular-ischaemic (coronary) heart disease, suicide and self-injury, motor vehicle traffic accidents and lung cancer.

Interestingly, for coronary heart disease, there has been a cross-over in trends from the non-manual group to the manual group.

'The mortality rate for coronary heart disease was significantly higher among non-manual workers in the late 1960s. But the position has reversed since 1970, with rates for the manual group now 60% higher,' Mr de Looper said.

'And, for lung cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide, mortality rates for manual workers are not only higher-the gap in death rates between the two groups has been increasing since around the mid-1980s.'

Other disease groups that have shown consistently higher mortality rates for manual workers compared to non-manual workers over the 1966-2001 period include stomach cancer; drug dependence; stroke; pneumonia and influenza; bronchitis, emphysema and asthma; and motor traffic accidents.

6 April 2005

Further information: Michael de Looper, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1137, or mobile 0407 915 851.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.