The contribution of material, psychosocial, and behavioral factors in explaining educational and occupational mortality inequalities in a nationally representative sample of South Koreans: relative and absolute perspectives

Soc Sci Med. 2009 Mar;68(5):858-66. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.12.003. Epub 2009 Jan 2.


The contributions of material, psychosocial, and behavioral factors in explaining socioeconomic inequalities in health have been explored in many Western studies. Most prior investigations have looked at relative abilities to explain such inequalities. In addition, little research focuses on Asian countries, despite the fact that the prevalence and socioeconomic distribution of risk factors for mortality are different there. This study examined relative and absolute abilities of material, psychosocial, and behavioral pathways to explain educational and occupational inequalities in mortality in a nationally representative sample from South Korea. The 1998 and 2001 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data were pooled and linked to national mortality data. Of 8366 men and women over 30 years of age, 310 died between 1999 and 2005. Nine pathway variables were examined: three material factors (income, health insurance, and car ownership status), three psychosocial factors (depression, stress, and marital status), and three behavioral factors (smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical exercise). The relative risk and relative index of inequality were used as measures of relative inequality, and risk differences and the slope index of inequality were used as measures of absolute inequality. Material factors explained a total of 29.0% of the excess in relative risk for education and 50.0% of the excess in relative risk for occupational class. Material factors explained 78.6% of the excess in absolute mortality difference for education and 41.1% for occupational class. Psychosocial factors for both education and occupational class had a relative and absolute explanatory power of less than 15%. Behavioral factors showed a relative explanatory power of about 15%, but absolute explanatory power reached 84.0% for education and 105.4% for occupational class. However, the number of deaths used to calculate the absolute explanatory power was small. Results of this study suggest that absolute socioeconomic mortality inequalities could be substantially reduced if behavioral risk factors were reduced in the whole population.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cause of Death
  • Depression / ethnology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Behavior* / ethnology
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Korea / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality* / ethnology
  • Occupations / classification
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sociology, Medical