Latent class models for capturing unobserved heterogeneity in major global causes of mortality: The cases of traffic crashes and COVID-19

Eleonora Papadimitriou*, Amir Pooyan Afghari, Pieter van Gelder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Existing models for correlating global mortality rates with underlying country-specific factors overlook the variations in the effects of these factors on mortality across different countries. These may arise from social, cultural, and political complexities which are usually not measurable and are therefore referred to as unobserved heterogeneity in the statistical literature. Unobserved heterogeneity leads to biased parameter estimates in the models, erroneous inferences about the effects of factors contributing to mortalities, and ultimately inefficient policies. In this paper, latent class modelling is proposed for capturing such unobserved heterogeneity on the cases of traffic mortality and COVID-19 mortality. The ‘pyramid’ model of safety management is used as a common framework for model formulation. The proposed latent class model is an extension of the Negative Binomial (NB) model used in risk epidemiology. The model is tested with data from 105 countries, retrieved from international databases, including socioeconomic, infrastructure, exposure, transport, and COVID-19 variables. The results suggest that there exist two (different) latent country classes in both causes of mortality. The probability of a country belonging to a certain latent class is a much more efficient metric of country membership than previous deterministic groupings (e.g. income or geographic). Variables such as the elderly population, the GDP per capita or the level of motorization, have different effects in different country classes; these effects are not identifiable by conventional statistical modelling. The impact of ignoring unobserved heterogeneity in country mortality modelling is shown by comparing the results with those of conventional NB models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101147
JournalTransportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • COVID-19
  • Cross-sectional data
  • Latent class models
  • Traffic fatalities


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