Welfare states, the Great Recession and health: Trends in educational inequalities in self-reported health in 26 European countries

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Background Although socioeconomic inequalities in health have long been observed in Europe, few studies have analysed their recent patterning. In this paper, we examined how educational inequalities in self-reported health have evolved in different European countries and welfare state regimes over the last decade, which was troubled by the Great Recession. Methods We used cross-sectional data from the EU-SILC survey for adults from 26 European countries, from 2005 to 2014 (n = 3,030,595). We first calculated education-related absolute (SII) and relative (RII) inequalities in poor self-reported health by country-year, adjusting for age, sex, and EU-SILC survey weights. We then regressed the year- and country-specific RII and SII on a yearly time trend, globally and by welfare regime, adjusting for country fixed effects. We further adjusted the analysis for the economic cycle using GDP growth, unemployment, and income inequality. Results Overall, absolute inequalities persisted and relative inequalities slightly widened (betaRII = 0.0313, p<0.05). There were substantial differences by welfare regime: Anglo-Saxon countries experienced the largest increase in absolute inequalities (betaSII = 0.0032, p<0.05), followed by Bismarkian countries (betaSII = 0.0024, p<0.001), while they reduced in Post-Communist countries (betaSII = -0.0022, p<0.001). Post-Communist countries also experienced a widening in relative inequalities (betaRII = 0.1112, p<0.001), which were found to be stable elsewhere. Adjustment for income inequality only explained such trend in Anglo-Saxon countries. Conclusions Educational inequalities in health have overall persisted across European countries over the last decade. However, there is considerable variation across welfare regimes, possibly related to underpinning social safety nets and to austerity measures implemented during this 10-year period.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19144775
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


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