Comparing Alternative Effect Decomposition Methods: The Role of Literacy in Mediating Educational Effects on Mortality

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Inverse odds ratio weighting, a newly proposed tool to evaluate mediation in exposure–disease associations, may be valuable for a host of research questions, but little is known about its performance in real data. We compare this approach to a more conventional Baron and Kenny type of decomposition on an additive hazards scale to estimate total, direct, and indirect effects using the example of the role of literacy in mediating the effects of education on mortality.


Health and Retirement Study participants born in the United States between 1900 and 1947 were interviewed biennially for up to 12 years (N = 17,054). Literacy was measured with a brief vocabulary assessment. Decomposition estimates were derived based on Aalen additive hazards models.


A 1 standard deviation difference in educational attainment (3 years) was associated with 6.7 fewer deaths per 1000 person-years (β = −6.7, 95% confidence interval [CI]: −7.9, −5.4). Of this decrease, 1.3 fewer deaths (β = −1.3, 95% CI: −4.0, 1.2) were attributed to the literacy pathway (natural indirect), representing 19% of the total effect. Baron and Kenny estimates were consistent with inverse odds ratio weighting estimates but were less variable (natural indirect effect: −1.2 [95% CI: −1.7, −0.69], representing 18% of total effect).


In a cohort of older Americans, literacy partially mediated the effect of education on mortality. See Video Abstract at

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