Anonymous linkage of New Zealand mortality and Census data

T Blakely, A Woodward, C Salmond
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2000, 24 (1): 92-5

BACKGROUND: The New Zealand Census-Mortality Study (NZCMS) aims to investigate socio-economic mortality gradients in New Zealand, by anonymously linking Census and mortality records.

OBJECTIVES: To describe the record linkage method, and to estimate the magnitude of bias in that linkage by demographic and socio-economic factors.

METHODS: Anonymous 1991 Census records, and mortality records for decedents aged 0-74 years on Census night and dying in the three-year period 1991-94, were probabilistically linked using Automatch. Bias in the record linkage was determined by comparing the demographic and socio-economic profile of linked mortality records to unlinked mortality records.

RESULTS: 31,635 of 41,310 (76.6%) mortality records were linked to one of 3,373,896 Census records. The percentage of mortality records linked to a Census record was lowest for 20-24 year old decedents (49.0%) and highest for 65-69 year old decedents (81.0%). By ethnic group, 63.4%, 57.7%, and 78.6% of Maori, Pacific, and decedents of other ethnic groups, respectively, were linked. Controlling for demographic factors, decedents from the most deprived decile of small areas were 8% less likely to be linked than decedents from the least deprived decile, and male decedents from the lowest occupational class were 6% less likely to be linked than decedents from the highest occupational class.

CONCLUSION: The proportion and accuracy of mortality records linked was satisfactorily high. Future estimates of the relative risk of mortality by socio-economic status will be modestly under-estimated by 5-10%.

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