Politics, welfare regimes, and population health: controversies and evidence

Sociol Health Illn. 2011 Sep;33(6):946-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01339.x.


In recent years, a research area has emerged within social determinants of health that examines the role of politics, expressed as political traditions/parties and welfare state characteristics, on population health. To better understand and synthesise this growing body of evidence, the present literature review, informed by a political economy of health and welfare regimes framework, located 73 empirical and comparative studies on politics and health, meeting our inclusion criteria in three databases: PubMed (1948-), Sociological Abstracts (1953-), and ISI Web of Science (1900-). We identified two major research programmes, welfare regimes and democracy, and two emerging programmes, political tradition and globalisation. Primary findings include: (1) left and egalitarian political traditions on population health are the most salutary, consistent, and substantial; (2) the health impacts of advanced and liberal democracies are also positive and large; (3) welfare regime studies, primarily conducted among wealthy countries, find that social democratic regimes tend to fare best with absolute health outcomes yet consistently in terms of relative health inequalities; and (4) globalisation defined as dependency indicators such as trade, foreign investment, and national debt is negatively associated with population health. We end by discussing epistemological, theoretical, and methodological issues for consideration for future research.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Democracy
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Humans
  • Internationality*
  • Politics*
  • Public Health / methods
  • Public Health / trends*
  • Social Welfare / trends*