J Epidemiol Community Health 67:87-94 doi:10.1136/jech-2011-200415
  • Research reports

The psychosocial pathway to mental well-being at the local level: investigating the effects of perceived relative position in a deprived area context

  1. Carol Tannahill3
  1. 1Urban Studies, School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3Glasgow Centre for Population Health, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Ade Kearns, Urban Studies, School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, 25 Bute Gardens, Glasgow G12 8RS, UK; ade.kearns{at}
  1. Contributors AK conceived the study, led the study design, contributed to the analytical approach and led the writing of the article. EW contributed to the analytical approach, conducted the analysis and contributed to writing the article. LB contributed to the analytical approach and to the writing of the article. ME and CT contributed to the study design and to the writing of the article.

  • Accepted 18 June 2012
  • Published Online First 23 July 2012


Background The study investigated whether perceived relative position was associated with mental well-being for people living in deprived areas, as a contribution to debates about income inequality, relative deprivation and health.

Methods A survey of 4615 residents of deprived areas of Glasgow measured mental well-being using the WEMWBS scale. Perceived relative position was assessed locally and across wider society in relation to housing, neighbourhood and standard of living. Personal and dwelling characteristics were controlled for.

Results Mental well-being was found to be positively associated with: perceived relative quality (RR 4.1, 95% CI 2.4 to 6.8) and status (RR 7.1, 95% CI 4.5 to 11.1) of the home; perceived internal reputation of the neighbourhood (RR 4.9, 95% CI 2.9 to 8.2), though not external reputation; and perceived relative standard of living (RR 5.2, 95% CI 3.2 to 8.4). Furthermore, respondents who thought they lived in an area where some people had higher incomes than others also reported higher mental well-being (RR 4.5, 95% CI 2.2 to 9.1), controlling for the effects of their own income.

Conclusion Studies of inequality and health could give more consideration to the importance of the residential domain of housing and neighbourhood to mental well-being outcomes, via the psychosocial pathway. The local spatial scale may be more important to issues of relative deprivation than previously thought, as people make local as well as broader comparisons. The ability to make upward comparisons of income within deprived areas may be beneficial to residents rather than detrimental, possibly as an indicator of area progress and ‘normality’.


  • Funding GoWell is funded by the Scottish Government, NHS Health Scotland, Glasgow Housing Association, Glasgow Centre for Population Health and NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval GoWell received ethical approval from NHS Scotland B MREC committee in 2005 (no. 5/MRE10/89).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.