How society shapes the health gradient: work-related health inequalities in a comparative perspective

Annu Rev Public Health. 2012 Apr;33:59-73. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031811-124603.


Analyses in comparative political economy have the potential to contribute to understanding health inequalities within and between societies. This article uses a varieties of capitalism approach that groups high-income countries into coordinated market economies (CME) and liberal market economies (LME) with different labor market institutions and degrees of employment and unemployment protection that may give rise to or mediate work-related health inequalities. We illustrate this approach by presenting two longitudinal comparative studies of unemployment and health in Germany and the United States, an archetypical CME and LME. We find large differences in the relationship between unemployment and health across labor-market and institutional contexts, and these also vary by educational status. Unemployed Americans, especially of low education or not in receipt of unemployment benefits, have the poorest health outcomes. We argue for the development of a broader comparative research agenda on work-related health inequalities that incorporates life course perspectives.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Employment*
  • Germany
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Social Class*
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States