In the shadow of the welfare society ill-health and symptoms, psychological exposure and lifestyle habits among social security recipients: a national survey study

Biopsychosoc Med. 2008 Sep 22;2:15. doi: 10.1186/1751-0759-2-15.


Background: In Sweden social security is a means-tested financial allowance. The Social Services Act states that an individual is entitled to financial support when his/her needs are not met in any other way. The aim of the present study was to analyse the prevalence and impact of various illness factors and symptoms in social security recipients compared to non-recipients in a welfare state, in this case Sweden.

Methods: A simple random sample of 20 100 individuals was selected from a national survey that covered all individuals in the 18-84 year age group in Sweden. A postal survey was thereafter conducted. Multiple logistic regression was employed as a statistical test. Odds ratio (OR) and a 95% confidence interval (CI) was used.

Results: Social security recipients were found to have a significantly higher risk in most of the studied variables. Reduced psychological wellbeing measured by means of the GHQ12 was significantly higher in this group compared to the rest of the population (OR 1.41 CI 1.03-1.94) and their lack of trust was greater (OR 1.96, CI 1.45-2.66). They reported more sleep disturbances (OR 2.16, CI 1.58-2.94) and suffered from anxiety (OR 1.74, CI 1.28-2.36). Their dental health was worse (OR 2.44, CI 1.82-3.28) and they had more pain in their hands and legs (OR 1.57, CI 1.16-2.12). Social security recipients were more often humiliated (OR 1.79, CI 1.31-2.44) and exposed to threat (OR 1.69, CI 1.09-2.61). They were less physically active (OR 1.56, CI 1.17-2.08), had a poorer diet (OR 1.95, CI 1.45-2.63) and were more often smokers (OR 3.20, CI 2.37-4.33).

Implication: The challenge for the welfare state consists of recognising the significance of both structural and lifestyle factors as a means of reducing the health gap.