Racial and Ethnic Differences in a Linkage with the National Death Index

Miller, Eric A.; McCarty, Frances A.; Parker, Jennifer D.
Ethnicity & Disease

OBJECTIVES: Differences in the availability of a Social Security Number (SSN) by race/ethnicity could affect the ability to link with death certificate data in passive follow-up studies and possibly bias mortality disparities reported with linked data. Using 1989-2009 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data linked with the National Death Index (NDI) through 2011, we compared the availability of a SSN by race/ethnicity, estimated the percent of links likely missed due to lack of SSNs, and assessed if these estimated missed links affect race/ethnicity disparities reported in the NHIS-linked mortality data.
METHODS: We used preventive fraction methods based on race/ethnicity-specific Cox proportional hazards models of the relationship between availability of SSN and mortality based on observed links, adjusted for survey year, sex, age, respondent-rated health, education, and US nativity.
RESULTS: Availability of a SSN and observed percent linked were significantly lower for Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander (PI) participants compared with White non-Hispanic participants. We estimated that more than 18% of expected links were missed due to lack of SSNs among Hispanic and Asian/PI participants compared with about 10% among White non-Hispanic participants. However, correcting the observed links for expected missed links appeared to only have a modest impact on mortality disparities by race/ethnicity.
CONCLUSIONS: Researchers conducting analyses of mortality disparities using the NDI or other linked death records, need to be cognizant of the potential for differential linkage to contribute to their results.