Health Inequalities in Global Context

Jason Beckfield*, Sigrun Olafsdottir, Elyas Bakhtiari

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1014-1039
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This material is based upon work supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1247312. Additionally, this publication was made possible by Grant Number 1R03HD066013-01 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF or the NIH.

Other keywords

  • global
  • health
  • inequality


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