Measuring health inequality among children in developing countries: does the choice of the indicator of economic status matter?

Int J Equity Health. 2003 Oct 9;2(1):8. doi: 10.1186/1475-9276-2-8.


BACKGROUND: Currently, poor-rich inequalities in health in developing countries receive a lot of attention from both researchers and policy makers. Since measuring economic status in developing countries is often problematic, different indicators of wealth are used in different studies. Until now, there is a lack of evidence on the extent to which the use of different measures of economic status affects the observed magnitude of health inequalities. METHODS: This paper provides this empirical evidence for 10 developing countries, using the Demographic and Health Surveys data-set. We compared the World Bank asset index to three alternative wealth indices, all based on household assets. Under-5 mortality and measles immunisation coverage were the health outcomes studied. Poor-rich inequalities in under-5 mortality and measles immunisation coverage were measured using the Relative Index of Inequality. RESULTS: Comparing the World Bank index to the alternative indices, we found that (1) the relative position of households in the national wealth hierarchy varied to an important extent with the asset index used, (2) observed poor-rich inequalities in under-5 mortality and immunisation coverage often changed, in some cases to an important extent, and that (3) the size and direction of this change varied per country, index, and health indicator. CONCLUSION: Researchers and policy makers should be aware that the choice of the measure of economic status influences the observed magnitude of health inequalities, and that differences in health inequalities between countries or time periods, may be an artefact of different wealth measures used.