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What is the association between wealth and mental health?
  1. K N Carter1,
  2. T Blakely1,
  3. S Collings2,
  4. F Imlach Gunasekara1,
  5. K Richardson1
  1. 1
    Health Inequalities Research Program
  2. 2
    Social Psychiatry and Population Mental Health Unit, Department of Public Health, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand
  1. Dr K Carter, Health Inequalities Research Program, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, Wellington, PO Box 7343, Wellington South, Wellington 6242, New Zealand; kristie.carter{at}


Background: Socioeconomic inequalities in mental health have been shown in a number of populations. This study aims to investigate the association between asset wealth and psychological distress in New Zealand and whether it is independent of other socioeconomic measures and baseline health status.

Methods: Data for this study were from the first three waves of the Survey of Families, Income and Employment (SoFIE) conducted in New Zealand (2002–2004/05) (n = 15 340). The Kessler-10 was used as a measure of psychological distress. The association of quintiles of wealth with psychological distress was investigated using logistic regression, controlling for confounders, socioeconomic variables and prior health status.

Results: The odds ratio (OR) of reporting high psychological distress were greater in the lowest wealth quintile compared with the highest (OR 3.06, 95% CI 2.68 to 3.50). Adjusting for age and sex did not alter the relationship; however, adjusting for income and area deprivation attenuated the OR to 1.73 (95% CI 1.48 to 2.04). Further controlling for baseline health status reduced the OR to 1.45 (95% CI 1.23 to 1.71), although the confidence interval still excluded the null.

Conclusions: Inequalities in wealth are strongly associated with psychological distress, over and above other confounding demographic variables and baseline health status. Much, but not all, of that association is confounded by adult socioeconomic position. This suggests that policy measures to improve asset wealth, through savings and home ownership, may have positive health implications and help to reduce health inequalities.

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  • Funding: SoFIE-Health is primarily funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand as part of the Health Inequalities Research Programme.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: Ethics approval was obtained for the SoFIE-Health module from the University of Otago Human Ethics Committee.