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Bull World Health Organ. 2000;78(1):42-54.

Defining and measuring health inequality: an approach based on the distribution of health expectancy.

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  • 1Economics Advisory Service, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.


This paper proposes an approach to conceptualizing and operationalizing the measurement of health inequality, defined as differences in health across individuals in the population. We propose that health is an intrinsic component of well-being and thus we should be concerned with inequality in health, whether or not it is correlated with inequality in other dimensions of well-being. In the measurement of health inequality, the complete range of fatal and non-fatal health outcomes should be incorporated. This notion is operationalized through the concept of healthy lifespan. Individual health expectancy is preferable, as a measurement, to individual healthy lifespan, since health expectancy excludes those differences in healthy lifespan that are simply due to chance. In other words, the quantity of interest for studying health inequality is the distribution of health expectancy across individuals in the population. The inequality of the distribution of health expectancy can be summarized by measures of individual/mean differences (differences between the individual and the mean of the population) or inter-individual differences. The exact form of the measure to summarize inequality depends on three normative choices. A firmer understanding of people's views on these normative choices will provide a basis for deliberating on a standard WHO measure of health inequality.

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