Background: The emergence and evolution of socioeconomic inequalities in health involves multiple factors interacting with each other at different levels. Simulation models are suitable for studying such complex and dynamic systems and have the ability to test the impact of policy interventions in silico.
Objective: To explore how simulation models were used in the field of socioeconomic inequalities in health.
Methods: An electronic search of studies assessing socioeconomic inequalities in health using a simulation model was conducted. Characteristics of the simulation models were extracted and distinct simulation approaches were identified. As an illustration, a simple agent-based model of the emergence of socioeconomic differences in alcohol abuse was developed.
Results: We found 61 studies published between 1989 and 2013. Ten different simulation approaches were identified. The agent-based model illustration showed that multilevel, reciprocal and indirect effects of social determinants on health can be modeled flexibly.
Discussion and conclusions: Based on the review, we discuss the utility of using simulation models for studying health inequalities, and refer to good modeling practices for developing such models. The review and the simulation model example suggest that the use of simulation models may enhance the understanding and debate about existing and new socioeconomic inequalities of health frameworks.