Social determinants and their unequal distribution: clarifying policy understandings

Milbank Q. 2004;82(1):101-24. doi: 10.1111/j.0887-378x.2004.00303.x.


Public health policy in older industrialized societies is being reconfigured to improve population health and to address inequalities in the social distribution of health. The concept of social determinants is central to these policies, with tackling the social influences on health seen as a way to reduce health inequalities. But the social factors promoting and undermining the health of individuals and populations should not be confused with the social processes underlying their unequal distribution. This distinction is important because, despite better health and improvement in health determinants, social disparities persist. The article argues that more emphasis on social inequalities is required for a determinants-oriented approach to be able to inform policies to address health inequalities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Health Promotion / trends*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Public Health / trends*
  • Public Policy*
  • Socioeconomic Factors