Background Material, psychosocial and behavioural factors are important explanatory pathways for socioeconomic inequalities in health. The aim of this systematic review was to summarise the available evidence on empirical studies and to analyse the relative contribution of these factors for explaining inequalities in self-rated health.
Methods The study was performed in compliance with PRISMA guidelines. The literature search was conducted in the electronic databases PubMed and Web of Science (1996–2016) as well as by screening of reference lists of obtained articles. Two reviewers performed the search and critical appraisal of the studies. All studies that focus on explaining socioeconomic inequalities in self-rated health, including at least 2 of the 3 main pathways and analysing the relative contribution of these approaches in separate and joint models, were included.
Results Eleven publications were included. Separate analyses showed that material, psychosocial and behavioural factors contribute to the explanation of socioeconomic inequalities in self-rated health. However, the combined analyses revealed that material factors contributed most to differences in self-rated health because of their higher independent (direct) effect and additional shared (indirect) effect (through psychosocial and behavioural factors). These results were largely independent of age, gender and indicator of socioeconomic status.
Conclusions The evidence presented might be used for policymakers to identify and to justify prioritisation in terms of prevention and health promotion. The findings show that multiple factors are important for tackling social inequalities in health. Strategies for reducing these inequalities should focus on material/structural living conditions as they shape conditions of psychosocial resources and health behaviour.
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