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Int J Equity Health. 2017 Jan 21;16(1):22. doi: 10.1186/s12939-017-0522-1.

Embodying pervasive discrimination: a decomposition of sexual orientation inequalities in health in a population-based cross-sectional study in Northern Sweden.

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  • 1Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Unit of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, SE-901 87, Umeå, Sweden.
  • 2Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Unit of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, SE-901 87, Umeå, Sweden.



Studies from Sweden and abroad have established health inequalities between heterosexual and non-heterosexual people. Few studies have examined the underpinnings of such sexual orientation inequalities in health. To expand this literature, the present study aimed to employ decomposition analysis to explain health inequalities between people with heterosexual and non-heterosexual orientation in Sweden, a country with an international reputation for heeding the human rights of non-heterosexual people.


Participants (N = 23,446) came from a population-based cross-sectional survey in the four northernmost counties in Sweden in 2014. Participants completed self-administered questionnaires, covering sexual orientation, mental and general physical health, social conditions and unmet health care needs, and sociodemographic data was retrieved from total population registers. Sexual orientation inequalities in health were decomposed by Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition analysis.


Results showed noticeable mental and general health inequalities between heterosexual and non-heterosexual orientation groups. Health inequalities were partly explained (total explained fraction 64-74%) by inequalities in degrading treatment (24-26% of the explained fraction), but to a considerable degree also by material conditions (38-45%) and unmet care needs (25-43%).


Psychosocial experiences may be insufficient to explain and understand health inequalities by sexual orientation in a reputedly 'gay-friendly' setting. Less overt forms of structural discrimination may need to be considered to capture the pervasive material discrimination that seems to underpin the embodiment of sexual minority inequalities. This ought to be taken into consideration in research, policy-making and monitoring aiming to work towards equity in health across sexual orientations.


Decomposition analysis; Health inequality; LGBQ; Mental health; Self-reported health; Sexual orientation

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