Summary

Generally, people living in lower socioeconomic groups are at greater risk of poor health; have greater rates of illness, disability and death; and live shorter lives than people from higher socioeconomic groups. The better a person’s social and economic circumstances, the healthier they tend to be; this is often called the ‘social gradient of health’. Injury is a leading cause of illness, disability and premature death in Australia, and a person’s socioeconomic circumstances are an important determinant of injury. However, the relationship between injury and socioeconomic factors has been shown to vary. Little research on this has been undertaken in Australia and only a small number of international studies and reviews have been published.

This report examines the effects of socioeconomic status (SES) on injury deaths in Australia in 2015–16. It looks at the effects of SES on injury deaths by age and sex and by a selection of external causes of injury. It also looks at the effects of socioeconomic factors over time by comparing cases from the most disadvantaged and least disadvantaged socioeconomic groups. It finds that, overall, rates of injury death were higher among people from the lowest (most disadvantaged) socioeconomic group than among people from the highest (least disadvantaged) group. This was most evident for Transport crash deaths, Unintentional poisoning deaths and male Suicide deaths. However, there was little evidence of such an association for Unintentional fall injury deaths and for females in relation to Unintentional drowning deaths, Unintentional thermal injury deaths or suicide deaths.

For external causes of injury where a strong association between increasing socioeconomic disadvantage and the likelihood of injury was apparent, there was variability across age groups. For example, for Unintentional poisoning deaths, the association between increasing socioeconomic disadvantage and the likelihood of injury was strongest in those aged 25–44 and 45–64, but not as evident in other age groups. For Suicide deaths, this association was strongest in those aged 25–44, while an opposite (but a weaker) effect was observed for those aged 65 and over. Patterns were difficult to interpret for Drowning and Thermal injury deaths, due to relatively low case counts across most age groups.

Variations were also seen when the proportion of deaths by SES was examined by age group. For most external causes, there were generally larger proportions of cases within the 2 most disadvantaged groups in each age group. An exception was for Thermal injury deaths, where the highest proportion of deaths occurred in the more advantaged groups for those aged 15–24 and 25–44—although this result should be interpreted with caution, due to relatively low case numbers. The effect was strongest among Homicide deaths where the proportion of deaths in the lowest (most disadvantaged) socioeconomic group was pronounced in those aged 15–24, 25–44 and 45–64 but not so in those aged 65 and over.