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New wrinkle in growing health gap.

Health disparities have grown quite dramatically among people in the same socioeconomic groups--oftentimes more than those among different groups, a study published in Social Science Research has found. Researchers discovered, for example, that health disparities between employed and unemployed men decreased over the course of the study, while disparities among men who were employed actually increased.

"People with the same socioeconomic status differ much more from each other in terms of health than they did 20 or so years ago," relates lead author Hui Zheng. "This is an issue that really hasn't been studied before and needs to be examined more closely

"Health scholars often emphasize between-groups disparities in health, but here we found that within-group disparities often far exceed the between-groups disparities, and the changes in total health disparities in the last two decades are mainly driven by the changes in the within group disparities."

The data from this study cannot determine why within-group health disparities have increased over the past quarter-century. Several factors may be in play, depending on the group. For instance, the increase in disparity among employed men may be due in part to an increase in the number of men employed only part time, which may reduce their access to health care services compared to full-time employees.

Overall, other studies have suggested that within-group income instability has increased due to declining unionization and a growing number of people with lower-wage, insecure jobs.

Zheng says the study identifies another source of the growing health gap in the overall population, and that has to do with changes in population composition. Generally, the researchers found that there are fewer Americans in groups that enjoy the best levels of self-rated health. That especially is true for men. Over the two and a half decades of the study, men became increasingly less likely to be employed and reach middle or upper-income levels--both of which are associated with less health disparity.

In contrast, women saw increases in college attainment, employment rate, and middle- and upper-income levels, all of which led to declining health disparities for females in this time period.

"If we can increase educational opportunities and labor force participation, and increase social mobility, we will also probably decrease health disparities in our population. So, in a sense, economic policy and social policy can also be viewed as health policy."

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Title Annotation:Medicine & Health
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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