BSSR Resources, Methods, and Measures

New research designs and data to better understanding socio-economic inequalities in health

Poverty and economic deprivation are major risk factors for mental and physical health. Furthermore, socio-economic status (SES) is important to health and life expectancy not only for those in poverty, but at all levels of SES. What is less clear is WHY this robust gradient between SES and health exists and which particular intervention strategies can most efficiently address SES-related inequalities in health. A major challenge -- but also an opportunity -- in this regard is that SES is partly heritable and genetically correlated with many health outcomes. Thus, simple cross-sectional or descriptive studies on the associations between SES and health may partly be driven by unobserved genetic confounds. On the other hand, the growing availability of genetic data and insights opens up new possibilities to tackle this challenge and new ways to identify causal mechanisms. In particular, the availability of genetic data in family studies (e.g. trios of parents and children, siblings) along with detailed, longitudinal data on SES, upbringing, economic behaviour, and health outcomes would offer a wide range of possibilities for rigorous empirical investigations into the causal relationships between SES and health, and open the way for studies that identify promising behavioural and environmental intervention strategies. Currently, the availability of such data is very scarce. Thus, investments into the collection of such data, as well as the development of new methods are necessary to make progress.

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Idea No. 292