Study objective: Many previous studies on socioeconomic inequalities in health have neglected the causal interdependencies between different socioeconomic indicators. This study examines the pathways between three socioeconomic determinants of ill health.
Design, setting, and participants: Cross sectional survey data from the Helsinki health study in 2000 and 2001 were used. Each year employees of the City of Helsinki, reaching 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 years received a mailed questionnaire. Altogether 6243 employees responded (80% women, response rate 68%). Socioeconomic indicators were education, occupational class, and household income. Health indicators were limiting longstanding illness and self rated health. Inequality indices were calculated based on logistic regression analysis.
Main results: Each socioeconomic indicator showed a clear gradient with health. Among women half of inequalities in limiting longstanding illness by education were mediated through occupational class and household income. Inequalities by occupational class were largely explained by education. A small part of inequalities for income were explained by education and occupational class. For self rated health the pathways were broadly similar. Among men most of the inequalities in limiting longstanding illness by education were mediated through occupational class and income. Part of occupational class inequalities were explained by education. Two thirds of inequalities by income were explained by education and occupational class.
Conclusions: Parts of the effects of each socioeconomic indicator on health are either explained by or mediated through other socioeconomic indicators. Analyses of the predictive power of socioeconomic indicators on health run the risk of being fruitless, if interrelations between various indicators are neglected.
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Funding: the Helsinki health study is supported by Academy of Finland (no 48118 and no 53245), and the Finnish Work Environment Fund (no 99090). PM is supported by the Academy of Finland (no 70631 and no 48600).
Conflicts of interest: none declared.