Background: Comparisons among countries can help to identify opportunities for the reduction of inequalities in health. We compared the magnitude of inequalities in mortality and self-assessed health among 22 countries in all parts of Europe.
Methods: We obtained data on mortality according to education level and occupational class from census-based mortality studies. Deaths were classified according to cause, including common causes, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer; causes related to smoking; causes related to alcohol use; and causes amenable to medical intervention, such as tuberculosis and hypertension. Data on self-assessed health, smoking, and obesity according to education and income were obtained from health or multipurpose surveys. For each country, the association between socioeconomic status and health outcomes was measured with the use of regression-based inequality indexes.
Results: In almost all countries, the rates of death and poorer self-assessments of health were substantially higher in groups of lower socioeconomic status, but the magnitude of the inequalities between groups of higher and lower socioeconomic status was much larger in some countries than in others. Inequalities in mortality were small in some southern European countries and very large in most countries in the eastern and Baltic regions. These variations among countries appeared to be attributable in part to causes of death related to smoking or alcohol use or amenable to medical intervention. The magnitude of inequalities in self-assessed health also varied substantially among countries, but in a different pattern.
Conclusions: We observed variation across Europe in the magnitude of inequalities in health associated with socioeconomic status. These inequalities might be reduced by improving educational opportunities, income distribution, health-related behavior, or access to health care.
Copyright 2008 Massachusetts Medical Society.