Whiners and deniers - what does self-rated health measure?

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Jul;75(1):1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.10.030. Epub 2011 Dec 3.


Self-rated health is a widely used measure of health typically obtained from a question, "How do you rate your health?" Despite the measure's popularity, debates continue as to what exactly self-rated health captures. This study augments the rich literature on the construct of self-rated health using a unique measurement approach. We conceptualize self-rated health as consisting of two components: latent health and reporting behaviour. We operationalize a preference-standardized health-related quality of life as a measure of latent health, and its systematic deviation from self-rated health as a measure of reporting behaviour. Using the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, we assess comparatively how the deviations between self-rated health and latent health, measured by the Health Utilities Index Mark 3, vary systematically by demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural factors. We present reporting behaviour by these factors in terms of pessimism and optimism relative to the assessment of the average Canadian. Our analysis shows reporting behaviour statistically and clinically significantly varies by age and socioeconomic status: those aged 80+ years and those with less income and education exhibit optimism about their health. In addition, our analysis indicates a tendency for persons with healthier lifestyles to be slightly pessimistic about their health. Our results imply that it may be misleading to take self-rated health at face value as a measure of health status for applications where preferences should be standardized. For this popular measure to continue to play an important role in population health research and policy development, its users must acknowledge and understand the determinants of self-rated health, including reporting behaviour.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude*
  • Canada
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Culture
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Health Policy
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Pain Measurement
  • Psychometrics
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Self Report*
  • Self-Assessment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult