O'Reilly D, Rosato M, Connolly S. Unlinked vital events in census-based longitudinal studies can bias subsequent analysis. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 2008; 61 (4): 380-385.
Objective: To examine the
potential biases arising from the nonlinkage of census records and vital events in longitudinal studies. Study Design and Setting: A total of 56,396 deaths of residents of Northern Ireland in the 4 years after the 2001 Census were linked to the 2001 Census records. The characteristics of matched and nonmatched death records were compared using multivariate logistic regression. Subject attributes
were as recorded on the death certificate. Results: In total, 3,392 (6.0%) deaths could not be linked to a census record. Linkage rates were lowest in young adults, males, the unmarried, people living in communal establishments, or living in areas that were more deprived or had recorded low census enumeration. For those aged less than 65 years at census, this linkage would exclude from analysis 20.2% of suicides and 19.7% of deaths by external causes. Conclusion: The nonlinkage of census and death records is a combination of nonenumeration at census and deficient information about the deceased recorded at the time of death. Unmatched individuals may have been more disadvantaged or socially isolated, and analysis based on the linked data set may therefore show some bias and perhaps understate true social gradients.