J Epidemiol Community Health 60:981-992 doi:10.1136/jech.2006.048694
  • Theory and methods

A life-course approach to measuring socioeconomic position in population health surveillance systems

  1. C R Chittleborough1,
  2. F E Baum2,
  3. A W Taylor3,
  4. J E Hiller1
  1. 1Discipline of Public Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
  2. 2Department of Public Health, Flinders University of South Australia, Bedford Park, South Australia
  3. 3Population Research and Outcome Studies Unit, Department of Health, Adelaide, South Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 C Chittleborough
 Discipline of Public Health, Level 9, 10 Pulteney Street, Mail Drop 207, University of Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia; catherine.chittleborough{at}
  • Accepted 23 June 2006


Measuring socioeconomic position (SEP) in population chronic disease and risk factor surveillance systems is essential for monitoring socioeconomic inequalities in health over time. Life-course measures are an innovative way to supplement other SEP indicators in surveillance systems. A literature review examined the indicators of early-life SEP that could potentially be used in population health surveillance systems. The criteria of validity, relevance, reliability and deconstruction were used to determine the value of potential indicators. Early-life SEP indicators used in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies included education level, income, occupation, living conditions, family structure and residential mobility. Indicators of early-life SEP should be used in routine population health surveillance to monitor trends in the health and SEP of populations over time, and to analyse long-term effects of policies on the changing health of populations. However, these indicators need to be feasible to measure retrospectively, and relevant to the historical, geographical and sociocultural context in which the surveillance system is operating.


  • Competing interests: None.