RESEARCH – March 2008

Health effects of socioeconomic status


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A growing body of evidence indicates that socioeconomic status (SES) is a strong predictor of health. Our research is organised around an integrated conceptual model of the environmental and psychosocial pathways by which SES alters the performance of people’s health, thereby affecting disease risk and disease progression. The main aim of the current survey was  to find relationships between socio-economic conditions and different health indicators (e.g. lifestyle, habits, beliefs and chronic diseases). Our study focuses mainly on the pathways of the health effects of socioeconomic status.
METHOD. We used a special interdisciplinary questionnaire. The research sample was selected from different backgrounds: retired people, students, clients of social work agencies, etc. There were a total of 308 respondents. We assumed that the effects of poverty and extreme adversity alone do not explain the association of SES with health and there is a strong, two-directional association between socioeconomic status and health.
RESULTS. There is a significant positive correlation between self-rated health status and self-rated socioeconomic status. We found a significant positive correlation of the respondents’ self-rated SES with different diseases and health problems like socioeconomic stress, depression, heart diseases, indigestion, hypertension, etc. A significant correlation appears to occur also between SES and some risk related health behaviours (e.g. smoking). Lower SES increases the likelihood that individuals will encounter negative events, diseases and problems with their mental and physical health. We found evidence for association between people’s socioeconomic status and health in Estonia.
CONCLUSION. The significant relationship between SES and health explains partly the differences in the health of various social groups in Estonia. For solving people’s health problems, not only our health care services should be to developed but it is also necessary to take SES into consideration in making effective adjustments to programme and policies that have a profound impact on the well-being of people.