IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Social Inequality in the Digital Transformation: Risks and Potentials of Mobile Health Technologies for Social Inequalities in Health


  • Tim Sawert
  • Julia Tuppat


The paper addresses the impact of digital health technologies on social inequalities in health. We set focus on mobile health technologies (mHealth) and analyse whether (a) usage of such technologies differs by educational level and (b) whether their usage moderate social inequalities in health satisfaction. We first develop a theoretical model in order to establish potential associations between social inequality, mHealth usage and health satisfaction. Assuming that mHealth technologies might positively affect health behaviour, they might particularly benefit groups with low health literacy and thus, have the potential to decrease the social gap in health behaviours, that was consistently reported in previous research. On the other hand, drawing on theories in the field of the digital divide, mHealth technologies might in contrast even exacerbate existing inequalities, if groups with a higher socio-economic status use them more often (2nd level digital divide) and/or particularly benefit from using them (3rd level digital divide). Using data of the Innovation Sample of the Germany Socio-Economic Panel Study (N=5,075), we find evidence for a 2nd level digital divide in mHealth usage: Among smartphone users, higher educated respondents are more likely to use health/fitness apps. However, our results do not support the existence of a 3rd level divide: There is no difference in the benefit of usage on respondents’ subjective health satisfaction by educational level. Further research is needed in order to analyse the proposed associations more in depth.

Suggested Citation

  • Tim Sawert & Julia Tuppat, 2020. "Social Inequality in the Digital Transformation: Risks and Potentials of Mobile Health Technologies for Social Inequalities in Health," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 1079, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  • Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp1079

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lynch, J. & Harper, S. & Kaplan, G.A. & Smith, G.D., 2005. "Associations between income inequality and mortality among US states: The importance of time period and source of income data," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 95(8), pages 1424-1430.
    2. Marmot, Michael & Siegrist, Johannes, 2004. "Health inequalities and the psychosocial environment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(8), pages 1461-1461, April.
    3. Goebel Jan & Grabka Markus M. & Liebig Stefan & Kroh Martin & Richter David & Schröder Carsten & Schupp Jürgen, 2019. "The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP)," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 239(2), pages 345-360, April.
    4. David Richter & Jürgen Schupp, 2012. "SOEP Innovation Sample (SOEP-IS): Description, Structure and Documentation," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 463, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    5. Balia, Silvia & Jones, Andrew M., 2008. "Mortality, lifestyle and socio-economic status," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 1-26, January.
    6. Goebel Jan & Grabka Markus M. & Liebig Stefan & Kroh Martin & Richter David & Schröder Carsten & Schupp Jürgen, 2019. "The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP)," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 239(2), pages 345-360, April.
    7. Siegrist, Johannes & Marmot, Michael, 2004. "Health inequalities and the psychosocial environment--two scientific challenges," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(8), pages 1463-1473, April.
    8. Nicole Darmon & Adam Drewnowski, 2015. "Contribution of food prices and diet cost to socioeconomic disparities in diet quality and health: a systematic review and analysis," Post-Print hal-01774670, HAL.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Kalwij, Adriaan, 2018. "The effects of competition outcomes on health: Evidence from the lifespans of U.S. Olympic medalists," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 276-286.
    2. Panarello, Demetrio, 2021. "Economic insecurity, conservatism, and the crisis of environmentalism: 30 years of evidence," Socio-Economic Planning Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 73(C).
    3. Ghazala Azmat & Katja Maria Kaufmann, 2024. "Formation of College Plans: Expected Returns, Preferences, and Adjustment Process," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 669-711.
    4. Caliendo, Marco & Cobb-Clark, Deborah A. & Obst, Cosima & Uhlendorff, Arne, 2023. "Risk preferences and training investments," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 205(C), pages 668-686.
    5. Alan Manning & Graham Mazeine, 2020. "Subjective job insecurity and the rise of the precariat: evidence from the UK, Germany and the United States," CEP Discussion Papers dp1712, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    6. Aksoy, Cevat Giray & Poutvaara, Panu & Schikora, Felicitas, 2023. "First time around: Local conditions and multi-dimensional integration of refugees," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 137(C).
    7. Lohela Karlsson, Malin & Björklund, Christina & Jensen, Irene, 2012. "The relationship between psychosocial work factors, employee health and organisational production – a systematic review," Working Paper Series 2012:8, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
    8. Tobias Wolf & Maria Metzing & Richard E. Lucas, 2022. "Experienced Well-Being and Labor Market Status: The Role of Pleasure and Meaning," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 163(2), pages 691-721, September.
    9. Waitkus, Nora & Minkus, Lara, 2021. "Investigating the gender wealth gap across occupational classes," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 108206, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    10. Charlotte Bartels & Carsten Schroeder, 2020. "Income, consumption and wealth inequality in Germany: Three concepts, three stories?," Basic Papers 2, Forum New Economy.
    11. Alexander M. Danzer & Carsten Feuerbaum & Marc Piopiunik & Ludger Woessmann, 2022. "Growing up in ethnic enclaves: language proficiency and educational attainment of immigrant children," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 35(3), pages 1297-1344, July.
    12. Goldman, Noreen & Turra, Cassio M. & Rosero-Bixby, Luis & Weir, David & Crimmins, Eileen, 2011. "Do biological measures mediate the relationship between education and health: A comparative study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 307-315, January.
    13. Hyde, Martin & Jappinen, Paavo & Theorell, Tores & Oxenstierna, Gabriel, 2006. "Workplace conflict resolution and the health of employees in the Swedish and Finnish units of an industrial company," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(8), pages 2218-2227, October.
    14. Gihleb, Rania & Giuntella, Osea & Stella, Luca & Wang, Tianyi, 2022. "Industrial robots, Workers’ safety, and health," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(C).
    15. Watson Nicole & Wooden Mark, 2021. "The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 241(1), pages 131-141, February.
    16. Kai Ingwersen & Stephan L. Thomsen, 2021. "The immigrant-native wage gap in Germany revisited," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 19(4), pages 825-854, December.
    17. Sierminska, Eva & Piazzalunga, Daniela & Grabka, Markus M., 2018. "Transitioning towards more equality? Wealth gender differences and the changing role of explanatory factors over time," GLO Discussion Paper Series 252, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    18. Benjamin Balsmeier & Heiko Peters, 2008. "Family Background or the Characteristics of Children: What Determines High School Success in Germany?," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 138, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    19. Uhr, Charline & Meyer, Steffen & Hackethal, Andreas, 2021. "Smoking hot portfolios? Trading behavior, investment biases, and self-control failure," Journal of Empirical Finance, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 73-95.
    20. Torben Krings, 2021. "‘Good’ Bad Jobs? The Evolution of Migrant Low-Wage Employment in Germany (1985–2015)," Work, Employment & Society, British Sociological Association, vol. 35(3), pages 527-544, June.

    More about this item


    mHealth; health inequality; digital divide; health behaviour; health literacy;
    All these keywords.

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp1079. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Bibliothek (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.