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Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Jan 8;11(1):815-29. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110100815.

The socioeconomic determinants of health: economic growth and health in the OECD countries during the last three decades.

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Centre for Research on Health and Economics (CRES), Barcelona, Catalonia 08002, Spain.
Centre for Research on Health and Economics (CRES), Barcelona, Catalonia 08002, Spain.


In times of economic crisis, most countries face the dual challenge of fighting unemployment while restraining social expenditures and closing budget deficits. The spending cuts and lack of employment affect a large number of decisions that have a direct or indirect impact on health. This impact is likely to be unevenly distributed among different groups within the population, and therefore not only health levels may be at risk, but also their distribution. The main purpose of this paper is to explore links between unemployment, economic growth, inequality, and health. We regress a measure of health, the Health Human Development Index (HHDI), against a set of explanatory variables accounting for the countries' economic performance (GDP growth, unemployment, and income inequality), and some institutional factors related to welfare spending and the nature of the health systems for the past three decades. In addition, we explore the causes for different results obtained using an inequality-adjusted HHDI, vs. the unadjusted HHDI. We describe a panel data model, estimated by random effects, for 32 countries from 1980-2010, in five-year intervals. Our conclusion is that the high economic growth observed in the last decades, together with an increase in the levels of income inequality and/or poverty, explain the observed changes of our index, particularly when this indicator is weighted by health inequality. The remaining institutional variables (the share of social spending, health care expenditure, and the type of health systems) show the expected sign but are not statistically significant. A comment on the methodological pitfalls of the approach completes the analysis.

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