Housing and inequalities in health: a study of socioeconomic dimensions of housing and self reported health from a survey of Vancouver residents
- Correspondence to: Professor J R Dunn, Department of Community Health Sciences, The University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 4N1;
- Accepted 4 February 2002
Study objective: To investigate the relation between housing, socioeconomic status, and self reported general and mental health. This study is an empirical investigation of social and economic dimensions of housing, specifically, demand, control, and material (affordability, dwelling type) and meaningful (pride in dwelling, home as a refuge) dimensions of everyday life as they occur in the domestic environment.
Design: A cross sectional telephone survey was administered to a random sample of households. Survey items included measures of demand, control, and meaningfulness of the domestic environment, as well as standard measures of socioeconomic status and social support. Main outcome measures were self reported health (excellent, very good, good, fair, poor) and self reported frequency of feeling “downhearted and blue” in the two weeks before interview (from the Rand Mental Health Index).
Setting: Households (n=650) from 12 neighbourhood areas in the city of Vancouver, Canada.
Participants: One randomly selected adult from each of 650 households completed the interview and constitute the sample for this study.
Main results: In bivariate analyses, measures of housing demand, control and meaningfulness exhibited strong and significantly graded relations with self reported health and somewhat less strong relations with mental health. In logistic regression analyses housing demand and control variables made significant contributions to health both general and mental health. Respondents were more likely to report fair/poor health if they: reported that they couldn't stand to be at home sometimes (OR=2.29, p<0.05); rated their domestic housework as somewhat or quite a strain (OR=5.71, p<0.001); were somewhat or very dissatisfied with their social activities (OR=3.41, p<0.001); and reported that they were constantly under stress a good bit of the time or more (OR=3.56, p<0.05). In terms of mental health, respondents were more likely to report poorer mental health if they: lived longer in their neighbourhood (OR=1.05, p<0.05); reported their housework duties to be somewhat or quite a strain (OR=5.55, p<0.001); reported that they did not have somebody that could help them if they needed it (OR=9.28, p<0.001); and reported that they were constantly under stress a good bit of the time or more in the two weeks before the interview (OR=5.26, p<0.001). One of the main hypotheses investigated—that meaningful dimensions of housing are associated with health status—found support in bivariate analyses without controls, but did not contribute to multivariable models.
Conclusions: The influence of housing demand and control variables superseded a well known correlate of health status, educational attainment, attesting to their importance. The findings of this paper lend support to the hypothesis that features of the domestic environment, especially as they pertain to the exercise of control and the experience of demand, are significant predictors of self reported general and mental health status. Housing is a concrete manifestation of socioeconomic status, which has an important part to play in the development of explanations of the social production of health inequalities.