NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Health Gap Between Rich and Poor Widening in Europe

October 12, 2001

A goal of universal health care schemes is to eliminate economic variations in health status. However, that has proved difficult in practice. In the United Kingdom, for example, the health gap between rich and poor in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality is widening, reports a monitoring agency.

And in the Netherlands, better educated and wealthier Dutch people enjoy on average 12 more years of good health and four more years of life than their poorer, less well educated compatriots. Socioeconomic inequalities in Holland remain similar to those in the U.K. and Scandinavian countries, despite a sustained effort over 20 years.

The London Health Observatory, set up by the government to study health inequalities, found:

  • A boy born today in the poor borough of Newham is likely to die at the age of 72, which is 5.7 years before a baby boy born in the rich borough of Westminster.
  • The life expectancy of a baby girl in Newham is 78.48 years, four years less than in Westminster.
  • The report notes that in the early 1990s, the gap in life expectancy between London boroughs was 5.2 years for males and 3.8 years for females.

There were also huge variations in infant mortality. A baby born in the poor borough of Hackney, in London's East End, had more than double the risk of dying in the first year of life than a baby born in Bexley on the southeast borders of London. The respective infant mortality rates were 8.9 and 3.6 per 1,000 live births.

Of course, life expectancy and infant mortality have improved for both the rich and poor over time -- it has just improved faster for the wealthier.

Source: "Health gap between rich and poor widening in UK," Reuters Health, October 10, 2001; Tony Sheldon, "Netherlands aims to tackle health divide," News extra, British Medical Journal, October 13, 2001.


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