Self-perceived health in older Europeans: Does the choice of survey matter?

Eur J Public Health. 2016 Aug;26(4):686-92. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckw017. Epub 2016 Mar 17.


Background: Cross-national comparisons of health in European countries provide crucial information to monitor health and disease within and between countries and to inform policy and research priorities. However, variations in estimates might occur when information from cross-national European surveys with different characteristics are used. We compared the prevalence of very good or good self-perceived health across 10 European countries according to three European surveys and investigated which survey characteristics contributed to differences in prevalence estimates.

Methods: We used aggregate data from 2004 to 2005 of respondents aged 55-64 years from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and the European Social Survey (ESS). Across the surveys, self-perceived health was assessed by the same question with response options ranging from very good to very bad.

Results: Despite a good correlation between the surveys (intraclass correlation coefficient: 0.77), significant differences were found in prevalence estimates of very good or good self-perceived health. The survey response, sample size and survey mode contributed statistically significantly to the differences between the surveys. Multilevel linear regression analyses, adjusted for survey characteristics, showed a higher prevalence for SHARE (+6.96, 95% CIs: 3.14 to 10.8) and a lower prevalence (-3.12; 95% CIs: -7.11 to 0.86) for ESS, with EU-SILC as the reference survey.

Conclusion: Three important health surveys in Europe showed substantial differences for presence of very good or good self-perceived health. These differences limit the usefulness for direct comparisons across studies in health policies for Europe.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys / methods*
  • Health Surveys / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Concept*