Numerous studies have concluded that people's socioeconomic position is related to mortality and morbidity, but that the strength of this association varies considerably both within and between European regions. This has spurred several researchers to more closely examine educational and occupational gradients in health in the Nordic countries to clarify the causes of cross-national differences. However, comparable studies using income as an indicator of socioeconomic position are still lacking. This study uses recent and highly comparable data to fill this gap. The aim of this study is threefold. First, we ask to what extent there is an income gradient in health in the Nordic countries, and to what extent the association differs between these countries. Second and third, we examine whether differences in the attenuation of the income gradient by education and occupational class, and age-specific differences between countries, may act as explanations for differences in the income gradient between the Nordic countries. The data source are three waves of the European Social Survey (ESS, 2002/2004/2006), which included 17,801 people aged 25 and over from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Two subjective health measures (physical/mental self reported health and limiting longstanding illness) were analysed by means of logistic regression. The results show that, in all countries, people reported significantly better health and were less likely to suffer from longstanding illness as they had a higher income. This association is strongest in Norway and Finland and weakest in Denmark. The income gradient in health, but not country differences in this gradient, is partly explained by education and occupational class. Additionally, the strength of the income gradient in health varies between age groups. The relatively high health inequalities between income groups in Norway and Finland are already visible in the youngest age groups. The results imply that the socioeconomic gradient in health will arguably not be strongly reduced in the near future as a result of cohort replacement, as has been suggested in previous studies. Health policy interventions may be particularly important five to ten years prior to retirement and in early adulthood.

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Social Science & Medicine
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam