BACKGROUND: The high mortality rates in the European Union (EU) Member States that acceded in 2004 sparked political interest in mortality convergence. Whether mortality is converging in the EU remains unclear. We reviewed the literature on mortality convergence in the post-2004 EU territory as a whole. We also explored whether the study designs influenced the results and whether any determinants of mortality convergence had been empirically examined.
METHODS: A systematic literature review was performed. Our search included scientific databases and the websites of international governmental institutions and European demographic research institutes.
RESULTS: We uncovered 94 unique records and included seven studies that reported on 36 analyses. There was marked methodological heterogeneity, including in the convergence measures (beta and sigma convergence). All of the beta convergence analyses found narrowing mortality differentials, whereas most of the sigma convergence analyses found widening mortality differentials. The results are robust to the units of analysis and mortality and dispersion measures. Our results also suggest that there is a lack of evidence on the determinants of mortality convergence in the EU.
CONCLUSIONS: There is general agreement that the EU regions and the Member States with high initial mortality rates improved the fastest, but this trend did not lead to overall mortality convergence in the EU. The harmonization of mortality convergence measures and research into determinants of mortality convergence are needed to support future EU cohesion policy. Policy-makers should consider supporting areas that have moderate but stagnant mortality rates, in addition to those with high mortality rates.