Socio-economic position and health: what you observe depends on how you measure it

J Public Health Med. 2003 Dec;25(4):288-94. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdg089.


Background: A number of different socio-economic classifications have been used in relation to health in the United Kingdom. The aim of this study was to compare the predictive power of different socio-economic classifications in relation to a range of health measures.

Methods: A postal questionnaire was sent to a random sample of adults in the West of Scotland (sampling from 1997 electoral roll, response rate 50 percent achieved sample 2,867).

Results: Associations between social position and health vary by socio-economic classification, health measure and gender. Limiting long-standing illness is more socially patterned than recent illness; income, Registrar General Social Class, housing tenure and car access are more predictive of health than the new National Statistics Socio Economic Classification; and men show steeper socio-economic gradients than women.

Conclusion: Although there is a consistent picture of poorer health among more disadvantaged groups, however measured, in seeking to explain and reduce social inequalities in health we need to take a more differentiated approach that does not assume equivalence among social classifications and health measures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Male
  • Social Class
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United Kingdom