Objective: The objective of this study was to determine whether the magnitude of income-related health inequalities varies between welfare regimes (Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, Bismarckian, Southern and Eastern). Specifically, it examined whether the Scandinavian welfare state regime has smaller income-based health inequalities than the other welfare state regimes.
Methods: The first (2002) and second (2004) waves of the representative cross-sectional European Social Survey (ESS), which comprised more than 80 000 respondents, were used to analyse income inequalities (relative health difference between the first and third income tertile) in self-reported health (general health, limiting longstanding illness) amongst those aged 25 or more. Data related to 23 European countries classified into five welfare state regimes. The study controlled for age and adjusted for educational attainment.
Results: When comparing the health of the first income tertile with the third, the Scandinavian countries only seemed to hold an intermediate position: they did not have the smallest, or the largest, health inequalities. However, the Anglo-Saxon welfare states had the largest income-related health inequalities for both men and women, while countries with Bismarckian welfare states tended to demonstrate the smallest. This pattern was unchanged after controlling for educational attainment. However, education seemed to explain the largest part of income-related health inequalities in the Southern regime.
Conclusion: This study shows that the magnitudes of income-related health inequalities indeed vary by welfare state regime. However, this variation was not always in the direction expected as the Scandinavian countries did not exhibit the smallest health inequalities.