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Health inequality in Nordic welfare states - more inequality or the wrong measures?


  • Brekke, Kjell Arne

    () (Department of Economics, University of Oslo,)

  • Kverndokk, Snorre

    () (Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research)


Several empirical papers have indicated that the health inequalities in the Nordic welfare states seem to be at least as high as health inequalities in other European countries even if the Nordic states have a more egalitarian income structure. This is in contrast to standard economic theory that predicts that income equality should lead to health equality everything else equal. We argue that there may be a straightforward explanation why Nordic countries appear to have a steeper health gradient than other countries. Health and income are related, and the correlation between income and health will be weaker the more noise there is in terms of other determinants of income. If the Nordic countries have succeeded in reducing the impacts of other determinants of income, like social class, then the correlation between income and health will be stronger in the Nordic countries. This story also holds for other measures of health inequality. However, if the causality is running from income to health, there may be a reason why health inequality is higher in more egalitarian states based on cognitive stress theory. We argue however, that even in this case the difference between Nordic states and the rest of Europe may be a result of poor measures.

Suggested Citation

  • Brekke, Kjell Arne & Kverndokk, Snorre, 2009. "Health inequality in Nordic welfare states - more inequality or the wrong measures?," HERO On line Working Paper Series 2009:4, Oslo University, Health Economics Research Programme.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:oslohe:2009_004

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    4. Train,Kenneth E., 2009. "Discrete Choice Methods with Simulation," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521747387, May.
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    7. Scott, Anthony, 2000. "Economics of general practice," Handbook of Health Economics,in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed.), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 22, pages 1175-1200 Elsevier.
    8. Scott, Anthony & Vick, Sandra, 1999. "Patients, Doctors and Contracts: An Application of Principal-Agent Theory to the Doctor-Patient Relationship," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 46(2), pages 111-134, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Huijts, Tim & Eikemo, Terje Andreas & Skalická, Vera, 2010. "Income-related health inequalities in the Nordic countries: Examining the role of education, occupational class, and age," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(11), pages 1964-1972, December.
    2. Christine André & Philippe Batifoulier & Mariana Jansen-Ferreira, 2016. "Privatisation de la santé en Europe. Un outil de classification des réformes," CEPN Working Papers hal-01256505, HAL.

    More about this item


    Health inequality; socio-economic status; Nordic welfare states; egalitarian countries;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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