Where wealth matters more for health: the wealth-health gradient in 16 countries

Soc Sci Med. 2013 Mar;81:10-7. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.01.010. Epub 2013 Jan 21.


Researchers have long demonstrated that persons of high economic status are likely to be healthier than persons of low socioeconomic standing. Cross-national studies have also demonstrated that health of the population tends to increase with country's level of economic development and to decline with level of economic inequality. The present research utilizes data for 16 national samples (of populations fifty years of age and over) to examine whether the relationship between wealth and health at the individual-level is systematically associated with country's level of economic development and country's level of income inequality. The analysis reveals that in all countries rich persons tend to be healthier than poor persons. Furthermore, in all countries the positive association between wealth and health holds even after controlling for socio-demographic attributes and household income. Hierarchical regression analysis leads to two major conclusions: first, country's economic resources increase average health of the population but do not weaken the tie between wealth and health; second, a more equal distribution of economic resources (greater egalitarianism) does not raise health levels of the population but weakens the tie between wealth and health. The latter findings can be mostly attributed to the uniqueness of the US case. The findings and their significance are discussed in light of previous research and theory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Economic Development / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Class*