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What lies behind the subjective evaluation of health status?


  • Kaplan, Giora
  • Baron-Epel, Orna


The evaluation of health or subjective health (SH) is considered a legitimate indicator of overall health status, providing a valid, reliable and cost-effective means of health assessment. This study looks at factors reported by respondents as influencing their SH, it analyzes to which extent people compare themselves with others when evaluating their health, and examines the difference between people with optimal or sub-optimal SH. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 383 Israeli residents. Three models for judging health status were identified: the biomedical or disease oriented, the emotional or "general feeling", and the functional-related model. The reported influence of some factors for the evaluation of health changed by age and by level of subjective health. Respondents with sub-optimal health reported tiredness and pain as more influential. Most interviewees spontaneously reported comparing their health to reference groups. Age and level of subjective health were associated with the way people compare their health to others. The young reporting sub-optimal health did not compare themselves to people their age, but a high percentage of the old did so. Among those with excellent health, the young rather than the old were more likely to compare themselves to people their age. These findings imply that each individual tries to find ways to evaluate his/her health in a more positive light. When old and not healthy they tend to compare themselves to friends or people their age, but if young and not healthy they do not perform the comparison so as not to feel worse. Understanding how people evaluate their health can contribute to the conceptual development of subjective health.

Suggested Citation

  • Kaplan, Giora & Baron-Epel, Orna, 2003. "What lies behind the subjective evaluation of health status?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(8), pages 1669-1676, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:56:y:2003:i:8:p:1669-1676

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    Cited by:

    1. Neil J. Buckley & Frank T. Denton & A. Leslie Robb & Byron G. Spencer, 2006. "Socio-economic Influences on the Health of Older Canadians: Estimates Based on Two Longitudinal Surveys," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 32(1), pages 59-84, March.
    2. Perruccio, Anthony V. & Badley, Elizabeth M. & Hogg-Johnson, Sheilah & Davis, Aileen M., 2010. "Characterizing self-rated health during a period of changing health status," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(9), pages 1636-1643, November.
    3. Guerrero, Ana M. & Herrero, Carmen, 2005. "A semi-separable utility function for health profiles," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 33-54, January.
    4. Jylhä, Marja, 2009. "What is self-rated health and why does it predict mortality? Towards a unified conceptual model," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 307-316, August.
    5. Mujcic, Redzo & Frijters, Paul, 2015. "Conspicuous consumption, conspicuous health, and optimal taxation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 59-70.
    6. repec:spr:ijphth:v:62:y:2017:i:5:d:10.1007_s00038-017-0944-y is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Powdthavee, Nattavudh, 2009. "Ill-health as a household norm: Evidence from other people's health problems," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 251-259, January.
    8. Natalia Golini & Viviana Egidi, 2016. "The Latent Dimensions of Poor Self-Rated Health: How Chronic Diseases, Functional and Emotional Dimensions Interact Influencing Self-Rated Health in Italian Elderly," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 321-339, August.
    9. repec:eee:socmed:v:187:y:2017:i:c:p:58-66 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Tiina Lankila & Simo Näyhä & Arja Rautio & Tanja Nordström & Markku Koiranen & Anja Taanila & Jarmo Rusanen, 2012. "Self-reported health in urban–rural continuum: a grid-based analysis of Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 57(3), pages 525-533, June.
    11. Baron-Epel, Orna & Kaplan, Giora & Haviv-Messika, Amalia & Tarabeia, Jalal & Green, Manfred S. & Nitzan Kaluski, Dorit, 2005. "Self-reported health as a cultural health determinant in Arab and Jewish Israelis: MABAT--National Health and Nutrition Survey 1999-2001," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(6), pages 1256-1266, September.
    12. Au, Nicole & Johnston, David W., 2014. "Self-assessed health: What does it mean and what does it hide?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 21-28.
    13. Cullati, Stéphane, 2014. "The influence of work-family conflict trajectories on self-rated health trajectories in Switzerland: A life course approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 23-33.
    14. Wim Peersman & Dirk Cambier & Jan Maeseneer & Sara Willems, 2012. "Gender, educational and age differences in meanings that underlie global self-rated health," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 57(3), pages 513-523, June.


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