This study tests a generalisation of the 'Wilkinson' thesis that the greater a nation's income inequality, the poorer the average national health status. We consider the effect of socio-economic inequality upon ethnic variations in smoking in New Zealand. Analysis of Maori and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) smoking rates from the 1996 Census is conducted for 73 Territorial Local Authority areas in New Zealand, disaggregated by gender and rural-urban location. Partial correlation is used to control for absolute levels of deprivation and examine the independent effect of ethnic social inequality upon smoking rates. The level of social inequality between Maori and Pakeha has an independent effect on Maori smoking rates. Pakeha smoking rates by contrast are more sensitive to variations in absolute rather than relative deprivation. The effect of inequality is greatest for Maori women, especially among urban residents. By contrast, among Maori men the effects are greatest in rural areas. The results provide some qualified support for the Wilkinson thesis and suggest that policies which address fundamental issues of social inequality will play a small, but significant, role in helping to reduce high smoking rates amongst Maori.
Copyright 2003 Elsevier Ltd.