Health Inequalities in Global Context


The existence of social inequalities in health is well established. One strand of research focuses on inequalities in health within a single country. A separate and newer strand of research focuses on the relationship between inequality and average population health across countries. Despite the theorization of (presumably variable) social conditions as “fundamental causes” of disease and health, the cross-national literature has focused on average, aggregate population health as the central outcome. Controversies currently surround macro-structural determinants of overall population health, such as income inequality. We advance and redirect these debates by conceptualizing inequalities in health as cross-national variables that are sensitive to social conditions. Using data from 48 World Values Survey countries, representing 74% of the world’s population, we examine cross-national variation in inequalities in health. The results reveal substantial variation in health inequalities according to income, education, sex, and migrant status. While higher socioeconomic position is associated with better self-rated health around the globe, the size of the association varies across institutional context and across dimensions of stratification. There is some evidence that education and income are more strongly associated with self-rated health than sex or migrant status.

American Behavioral Scientist, 57(8), 1014–1039. doi:10.11770002764213487343