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Are self-reports of health and morbidities in developing countries misleading? Evidence from India


  • Subramanian, S.V.
  • Subramanyam, Malavika A.
  • Selvaraj, Sakthivel
  • Kawachi, Ichiro


Self-reported measures of poor health and morbidities from developing countries tend to be viewed with considerable skepticism. Examination of the social gradient in self-reported health and morbidity measures provides a useful test of the validity of self-reports of poor health and morbidities. The prevailing view, in part influenced by Amartya Sen, is that socially disadvantaged individuals will fail to perceive and report the presence of illness or health-deficits because an individual's assessment of their health is directly contingent on their social experience. In this study, we tested whether the association between self-reported poor health/morbidities and socioeconomic status (SES) in India follows the expected direction or not. Cross-sectional logistic regression analyses were carried out on a nationally representative population-based sample from the 1998 to 1999 Indian National Family Health Survey (INFHS); and 1995-1996 and 2004 Indian National Sample Survey (INSS). Four binary outcomes were analyzed: any self-reported morbidity; self-reported sickness in the last 15 days; self-reported sickness in the past year; and poor self-rated health. In separate adjusted models, individuals with no education reported higher levels of any self-reported, self-reported sickness in the last 15 days, self-reported sickness in the last year, and poor self-rated health compared to those with most education. Contrary to the prevailing thesis, we find that the use of self-rated ill-health has face validity as assessed via its relationship to SES. A less dismissive and pessimistic view of health data obtained through self-reports seems warranted.

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  • Subramanian, S.V. & Subramanyam, Malavika A. & Selvaraj, Sakthivel & Kawachi, Ichiro, 2009. "Are self-reports of health and morbidities in developing countries misleading? Evidence from India," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 260-265, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:68:y:2009:i:2:p:260-265

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    References listed on IDEAS

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