Income, relative income, and self-reported health in Britain 1979-2000

Health Econ. 2009 Feb;18(2):125-45. doi: 10.1002/hec.1354.


We test the relative income hypothesis that an individual's health depends on the distribution of income in a reference group, as well as on the income of the individual. We use data on 231 208 individuals in Great Britain from 19 rounds of the General Household Survey between 1979 and 2000. Results are insensitive to the measure of self-assessed health used but the sign and significance of the effect of relative income depend on the reference group (national or regional) and the measure of relative income (Gini coefficient, absolute or proportional difference from the reference group mean, Yitzhaki absolute and proportional relative deprivation and affluence). Only one model (relative deprivation measured as income proportional to regional mean income) performs better than the model without relative income and has a positive estimated effect of absolute income on health. In this model the increase in the probability of good health from a ceteris paribus reduction in relative deprivation from the upper quartile to zero is 0.010, whereas an increase in income from the lower to the upper quartile increases the probability by 0.056. While our results provide only very weak support for the relative deprivation hypothesis, the inevitable correlation of measures of individual income and relative deprivation measured by comparing income and incomes in a reference group makes identification of the separate effects of income and relative deprivation problematic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Family Characteristics
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Income / classification*
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Models, Economic*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Self-Assessment
  • Social Class
  • Social Justice*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Vulnerable Populations / statistics & numerical data*