Analysing changes of health inequalities in the Nordic welfare states

Soc Sci Med. 2002 Aug;55(4):609-25. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(01)00191-5.


This study examined changes over time in relative health inequalities among men and women in four Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. A serious economic recession burst out in the early 1990s particularly in Finland and Sweden. We ask whether this adverse social structural'development influenced health inequalities by employment status and educational attainment, i.e. whether the trends in health inequalities were similar or dissimilar between the Nordic countries. The data derived from comparable interview surveys carried out in 1986/87 and 1994/95 in the four countries. Limiting long-standing illness and perceived health were analysed by age, gender, employment status and educational attainment. First, age-adjusted overall prevalence percentages were calculated. Second, changes in the magnitude of relative health inequalities were studied using logistic regression analysis. Within each country the prevalence of ill-health remained at a similar level, with Finns having the poorest health. Analysing all countries together health inequalities by employment status and education showed no major changes. There were slightly different tendencies among men and women in inequalities by both health indicators, although these did not reach statistical significance. Among men there was a suggestion of narrowing health inequalities, whereas among women such a suggestion could not be discerned. Looking at particular countries some small changes in men's as well as women's health inequalities could be found. Over a period of deep economic recession and a large increase in unemployment, particularly in Finland and Sweden, health inequalities by employment status and education remained broadly unchanged in all Nordic countries. Thus, during this fairly short period health inequalities in these countries were not strongly influenced by changes in other structural inequalities, in particular labour market inequalities. Institutional arrangements in the Nordic welfare states, including social benefits and services, were cut during the recession but nevertheless broadly remained, and are likely to have buffered against the structural pressures towards widening health inequalities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Educational Status
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity*
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Time