PURPOSE: Life expectancy for black Americans is five to eight years less than for Whites. The socioeconomic status (SES) of Blacks is also less than for Whites, and SES is associated with early mortality. This paper estimates the proportion of the racial difference in mortality attributable to SES by specific causes of death. METHODS: Data on 453,384 individuals in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study were used to estimate the hazard ratio associated with black race, with and without adjustment for income and education (measures of SES), in 38 strata defined by cause of death and age. RESULTS: For women, SES accounted for much (37-67%) of the black excess mortality for accidents, ischemic heart disease (ages 35-54), diabetes, and homicide; but not for hypertension, infections, and stomach cancers (11-17%). For men, SES accounted for much of the excess risk (30-55%) for accidents, lung cancer, stomach cancer, stroke, and homicide; but not for prostate cancer, pulmonary diseases, hypertension, and cardiomyopathy (0-17%). CONCLUSIONS: These results confirm those specific causes of death likely to underlie the overall excess mortality of Blacks, and identify those causes where SES may play a large role. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Inc.