Background: Few studies have examined socioeconomic disparities in health and behavioral risk factors by gender in Asian countries and in South Korea, specifically. We investigated the relationship between socioeconomic position (education, income, and occupation) and subjective and acute and chronic health outcomes and behavioral risk factors by gender, and compared results from 1998 and 2005, in the Republic of Korea.
Methods: We examined data from a nationally representative stratified random sample of 4213 men and 4618 women from the 1998 Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and 8289 men and 8827 women from the 2005 Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey using General Linear Modeling and multiple logistic regression methods.
Results: Controlling for behavioral risk factors (smoking, drinking, obesity, exercise, and sleep), those in lower socioeconomic positions had poorer health outcomes in both self-reported acute and chronic disease and subjective measures; differences were especially pronounced among women. A socioeconomic gradient for education and income was found for both men and women for morbidity and self-reported health status, but the gradient was more pronounced in women. In 1998, the odds ratios (ORs) of higher morbidity for illiterate vs. college educated females was 5.4:1 and 1.9:1 for females in the lowest income quintile vs. the highest. The OR for education decreased in 2005 to 2.9:1 and that for income quintiles remained the same at 1.9:1. The OR of lower self-reported health status for illiterate vs. college educated females was 2.9:1 and 1.6:1 for females in the lowest income quintile vs. the highest in 1998, and 3.3:1 and 2.3:1 in 2005.
Conclusions: Among Korean adults, men and women in lower socioeconomic position, as denoted by education, income, and somewhat less by occupation, experience significantly higher levels of morbidity and lower self-reported health status, even after controlling for standard behavioral risk factors. Disparities were more pronounced for women than for men. Efforts to reduce health disparities in South Korea require attention to the root causes of socioeconomic inequality and gender differences in the impact of socioeconomic position on health.