Dyed Black: Homicide and Racial Classification on Death Certificates

Andrew Penner, University of California, Irvine
Aliya Saperstein, University of Oregon

Using the 1993 US National Mortality Followback Survey (NMFS), we show a relationship between cause of death and racial classification of the decedent. The NMFS contains racial data from two sources: the death certificate, and a followback survey of relatives or friends of the deceased. Thus, there is the possibility of racially-discordant classification between how race is recorded in the death certificate (and in vital statistics), and how race is recalled by relatives or friends. Homicide mortality is highly and statistically-significantly associated with being coded black on the death certificate (viz., by the medical examiner). This relationship is net of controls for followback-survey race, so the homicide-black relationship we see is not simply a restatement of the fact that homicide is a more prevalent cause of death among blacks. The plasticity and context-specificity of racial classification in the United States extends to death classification, and cause is important

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Presented in Session 158: Race and Ethnic Disparities in Morbidity and Mortality in the United States