How can we measure health inequality?

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Dr Apostolos Davillas, University of East Anglia
An abstract illustration of healthcare dataAn abstract illustration of healthcare data

Economists (and more broadly social scientists) are increasingly focused on the measurement and causes of inequality in health. Health inequality has many sources, not all of which are equally objectionable. Many researchers focus on socio-economic inequalities in health and variations associated with differences in living conditions, access to health care, and health-related lifestyle.

In recent years, health inequalities have influenced the policy agenda in various ways. For example, with respect to the UK policy setting, a recent NHS Scotland policy report states that health inequalities go against the principle of social justice because they are avoidable. In particular, it is argued that “health inequalities do not occur randomly or by chance, but are socially determined by circumstances largely beyond an individual’s control”.

More broadly, NHS England draws on the international definition of health inequalities, as adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO); health inequalities are defined as avoidable inequalities in health between groups of people within countries and between countries. Measurement and quantitative analysis of inequity and (socio-economic and regional) inequality in health and healthcare are, thus, of critical importance for policymaking.

A number of approaches and methods have been employed by economists, social scientists and bio-social researchers on the measurement of socio-economic (and regional) inequality in health and healthcare. This reflects the relevant applied literature on the field as well as methodological innovations. Recent developments of social science survey data, collecting more objective physical measurements and markers derived from biological samples, in addition to self-reported health assessments, give a further ground to analyse and measure inequality in health using national representative datasets.

These topics all form the context for my forthcoming online course, Inequality in Health and Health Care, which I will deliver on 3 December. The course will provide a gentle introduction to inequity and socio-economic (and regional) inequality in health and health care.

During this course, I will aim to draw on issues that I have observed in my own research.  Broadly, my research covers a range of topics relevant to the social and economic determinants of health, health care demand, utilisation of health services and health care costs, the economics of obesity, the economics of disability, the economics of prevention and the economics of risky behaviours. I have also carried out research on the survey measurement of health and the implications of measurement error (in health measures) for the existing economics research.

The course will include practical sessions and illustrative examples to provide real world applications. These features, I hope, will make the course of equal interest and relevance to both researchers and analysts who work in areas requiring the quantitative analysis of inequity and (socio-economic and regional) inequality in health.

Register for Inequality in Health and Health Care