NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 21, 2005

England is attempting to narrow the growing gap in health outcomes between middle- and lower- class groups, according to the British Medical Journal. In 2002, the government set a target to narrow the gap by 10 percent for the areas with the lowest fifth of socio-economic classes.

According to researchers with the Department of Health, however, the gap has widened over the years, particularly in infant mortality and life expectancy. For example:

  • From 2001 to 2003, infant mortality rates among "routine and manual" workers were 19 percent higher than the national average and 69 percent higher than in "managerial and professional" group of workers.
  • From 2001 to 2003, the average life expectancy for men in this group was 74.17 years, compared to the national average of 76.24 years.
  • The life expectancy for women in this group was 79.09 years, compared to the national average of 80.72 years.

Rodney Griffiths of the Royal College of Physicians notes that the government is trying to improve health care system delivery, such as shortening waiting lists for elective surgery, but the shorter lists tend to over-represent the middle class.

Furthermore, manual workers tend to engage in less healthy lifestyles through behaviors such as smoking and consuming fewer fruits and vegetables. While improving health services may help some, it is more difficult to encourage people to change their health habits. Additionally, providing public information about healthy lifestyles may actually widen the gap, since the middle class are more likely to heed and benefit from the latest health information.

Source: Owen Dyer, "Disparities in Health Widen Between Rich and Poor in England," British Medical Journal, vol. 331, August 24, 2005.

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