Background: The association between lower socioeconomic status and poorer health outcomes has been observed using both individual-level and aggregate-level measures of income and education. While both are predictive of health outcomes, previous research indicates poor agreement between individual-level and aggregate-level measures. The purpose of this study was to determine the level of agreement between aggregate-level and individual-level measures of income and education among three distinct patient groups, specifically asthma, diabetes, and rheumatoid patients.
Methods: Individual-level measures of annual household income and education were derived from three separate surveys conducted among patients with asthma (n = 359), diabetes (n = 281) and rheumatoid arthritis (n = 275). Aggregate-level measures of income and education were derived from the 2001 Canadian census, including both census tract-and dissemination area-level measures. Cross-tabulations of individual-level income by aggregate-level income were used to determine the percentage of income classifications in agreement. The kappa statistic (simple and weighted), Spearman's rank correlations, and intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC) were also calculated. Individual-level and aggregate-level education was compared using Chi-Square tests within patient groups. Point biserial correlation coefficients between individual-level and aggregate-level education were computed.
Results: Individual-level income was poorly correlated with aggregate-level measures, which provided the worst estimations of income among patients in the lowest income category at the individual-level. Both aggregate-level measures were best at approximating individual-level income in patients with diabetes, in whom aggregate-level estimates were only significantly different from individual-level measures for patients in the lowest income category. Among asthma patients, the proportion of patients classified by aggregate-level measures as having a university degree was significantly lower than that classified by individual-level measures. Among diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis patients, differences between aggregate and individual-level measures of education were not significant.
Conclusions: Agreement between individual-level and aggregate-level measures of socioeconomic status may depend on the patient group as well as patient income. Research is needed to characterize differences between patient groups and help guide the choice of measures of socioeconomic status.