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Mel Bartley, Polity, 2004, £55, pp 240. ISBN 0-7456-2779
This book explains clearly the theory, concepts and methods used in health inequality work and its clarity makes it suitable for readers from diverse backgrounds. It is not a comprehensive précis of research results but rather an overview of the relations between socioeconomic position, sex, ethnicity, and health.
The book comprises 11 chapters, with extensive textual references together with tables and figures. Each chapter is appended by a useful list of further reading. The inclusion of a chapter on the most common methods used for description and analysis of health statistics provides a sound basis for understanding research relevant to health inequality. A chapter is devoted to each of the four models of aetiological pathways: behavioural and cultural, psychosocial, materialist, and life course, with an analysis of what each can contribute to our understanding of how health inequality occurs. A chapter on social ecology discusses how income distribution may effect differences in health between nations, states, and regions and which pathways might be involved.
This excellent book is slightly marred by a typographical error on page 13, which may be misleading to those new to the subject. In paragraph two, it is stated that “…where the differences in income between rich and poor are greater, health is better and life expectancy longer for the whole population.” This is, in fact, the opposite of what the quoted authors say, in that health is better in countries with less income difference.
The author provides a comprehensive introduction to the subject of health inequality, stating where questions are too involved for discussion in this work. Emphasis on the interrelation between different causal pathways, together with political context in the complex aetiology of health inequality provides a good basis for further reading.