J Epidemiol Community Health 57:692-698 doi:10.1136/jech.57.9.692
  • Research report

Socioeconomic health inequalities among a nationally representative sample of Danish adolescents: the role of different types of social relations

  1. P Due1,
  2. J Lynch2,
  3. B Holstein1,
  4. J Modvig3
  1. 1Department of Social Medicine, Institute of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, USA
  3. 3International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Copenhagen, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr P Due, Department of Social Medicine, Institute of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Blegdamsvej 3, DK-2200 Copenhagen, Denmark; 
  • Accepted 21 February 2003


Study objective: To investigate the role of different types of social relations in adolescent health inequalities.

Design: Cross sectional study. Measures included family social class, indices of social relations to parents, friends, teachers, and school.

Setting: Random sample of 55 schools in Denmark.

Participants: Nationally representative sample of 5205 students from grades 5, 7, and 9.

Main outcome measures: Self reported physical and psychological symptoms.

Results: Adolescents from families of lower socioeconomic position reported more physical and psychological symptoms. This ranged from 40% increased odds for multiple physical symptoms among less advantaged girls, to 90% increased odds of multiple psychological symptoms for less advantaged boys. Relationships with friends or teachers showed small social class differences, while strong and consistent social class differences were found in the ways adolescents reported their own and their parents relations to school. For example, girls from families of lower socioeconomic position were more than four times as likely to report their parents unwilling to attend school meetings (odds ratio=4.54, 95% confidence intervals: 2.68 to 7.69). Poorer relations with parents, peers, teachers, and school were all associated with worse health. Patterns of parent-child relations with the school were the greatest contributors to socioeconomic differences in physical and psychological symptoms.

Conclusions: The school is one of the first important social institutions directly experienced by children and socioeconomic differences in how adolescents and their parents relate to the school may be part of the cascade of early life influences that can lead to later social and health disadvantage.


  • Funding: the study was supported by the Health Insurance Fund in Denmark ( 11/216–98) and The Danish Ministry of Health ( 1999–524/04–20). John Lynch was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Health (5 RO1 HD35120–02). This work was also supported by the European Science Foundation Program on Social Variations in Health.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.