Future uncertainty and socioeconomic inequalities in health: the Whitehall II study

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Aug;57(4):637-46. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00406-9.


Over the past 20 years, socioeconomic inequalities in mortality have widened, while job security and financial security have decreased. This paper examines the Whitehall II study, a longitudinal study of white-collar British civil servants. In the Whitehall II cohort socioeconomic gradients in morbidity and cardiovascular risk factors at Phase 5 (1997-99) were generally steeper than at Phase 1 (1985-88). We examine the contribution of job and financial insecurity to these at Phase 5 in 6770 women and men, all of whom were white-collar civil servants at Phase 1. Steep, inverse employment grade gradients were observed for all health measures at Phase 5, except cholesterol and systolic blood pressure in women. Gradients in the sub-population of non-employed participants tended to be steeper than gradients for participants in employment, although, with the exception of self-rated health and General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) score in men, differences were non-significant. Steep gradients in job insecurity were observed among employed participants (p<or=0.01), and in financial insecurity among both employed and non-employed participants (p<or=0.001), particularly non-employed men. With the exception of depression, adjustment for job insecurity had little effect on the employment grade gradients in morbidity. However, financial insecurity contributed substantially to gradients in self-rated health, longstanding illness, and depression in both employed and non-employed men, and additionally to GHQ score and diastolic blood pressure in the latter. Adjustment for financial insecurity in non-employed women substantially attenuated gradients in self-rated health, GHQ score and depression. These findings imply that the specific effects of job insecurity in this cohort may be less important than the more general effects of financial insecurity in determining inequalities in health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / economics
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology
  • Depression / economics
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Employment / economics*
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Government Agencies
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / economics
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • London / epidemiology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Assessment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Uncertainty*