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Searching for the Causes of Unequal Health

Searching for the Causes of Unequal Health

People with high income are healthier than the average of the population. However, the underlying reasons are not entirely clear. Does the cause of this inequality possibly even lie in childhood? In order to answer this question, MEA scientists analyze the influence of parental income on the health of children. To begin with, the scientists examined if parents with high income perceived their children as healthier compared to parents with low income. Furthermore, they analyzed if the differences in parental perception between income groups increased with children’s increasing age. Indeed a positive coherency exists between income and the perception of child health across the whole scale of salaries (see graphic).

This result is consistent with former US-studies, which detected a similar relationship. On top of that, in the US differences in the perception of health even increase when children become older, indicating that the advantages of children from high income families expand with the lapse of time. In Germany however this is not the case. The reason might be rooted in institutional differences: While there is a compulsory health insurance in Germany, many low income households in the US are not insured.

Furthermore, the scientists analyzed the causes, why parents with low income estimate their children’s health worse. Discrepancies in the occurrence of certain diseases (e.g. asthma) are examined. If children of poorer households indeed suffered from acute or chronic diseases more often, it is clear why parents estimate their health worse. However, hardly any discrepancies in the occurrence of acute and chronic diseases or objective health measures can be identified between children from poor and rich social backgrounds.

Moreover, the scientists explored, if certain acute or chronic diseases affected children from poor social backgrounds stronger than others. Here they concluded that certain diseases do indeed constrain the well-being of children of high-income families less than children from a poorer background.

Thus, an important topic of future research is to identify where these differences derive from in order to help children from poor families systematically to cope with acute and chronic diseases.

For more information please have a look at:

Parental Income and Child Health in Germany
MEA Discussion Paper: 175-09, Steffen Reinhold, Hendrik Jürges.