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“Understanding key challenges for European societies in the 21st century”: The health issue

The 3rd International Conference of the European Social Survey (ESS), on 13-15th July 2016 at the University of Lausanne, is locally co-organised by FORS Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences and sponsored by the NCCR LIVES. It notably features a presentation by Claudine Burton-Jeangros, Adrien Remund and Stéphane Cullati from the University of Geneva about health inequalities in Switzerland.

The 3rd International ESS Conference showcases research that uses data from the European Social Survey (ESS) to address issues such as migration, work and family life, wellbeing, health, welfare, political engagement and social norms and values. Practical and policy implications of the research will be drawn out wherever possible. The conference is being organised by the European Social Survey European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ESS ERIC) and the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences (FORS), with the support of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives.

The European Social Survey (ESS) is an academically driven cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe since 2001. Every two years, face-to-face interviews are conducted with newly selected, cross-sectional samples. The survey measures the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns of diverse populations in more than thirty nations.

During the 3rd International ESS Conference, Prof. Claudine Burton-Jeangros, Dr. Adrien Remund, and Dr. Stéphane Cullati, researchers at the University of Geneva and NCCR LIVES, presented “Do social inequalities in health and wellbeing decrease, increase or remain stable in Switzerland? A cross-sectional trend analysis (2002-2014)”

Increase of health inequalities

In a context of difficult socioeconomic conditions over the last years in Europe, social inequalities in health and wellbeing have increased in many high-income countries. The three researchers ask whether in Switzerland, where health inequalities tend to remain limited, health and wellbeing inequalities are changing or not. Their objective was to examine change in social inequalities in health and well-being between the years 2002 and 2014, using waves 1 (2002) to 7 (2014) of the Swiss sample of the European Social Survey.

They observed that over the 2002-2014 period, educational inequalities on self-reported health and being hampered in daily activities slightly increased: respondents with high educational levels tended to report better health status over time compared to respondents with low educational levels, and the former tended to report being hampered less frequently over time. Moreover, the association between household income and happiness (higher income, higher happiness) slightly increased over time.

Some correlations between health and wellbeing with a range of social factors remained stable over time: perception of neighbourhood insecurity (feeling unsafe when walking alone after dark) was lastingly and strongly associated with low self-rated health and with being hampered in daily activities; poor satisfaction with household income was associated with poor satisfaction with life, poor happiness, and (to the exception of wave 2006) with poor self-rated health; household income was associated with being hampered in daily activities (to the exception of wave 2008).

Other inequalities declined during the 2002-2014 period: women tended to report higher self-rated health compared to men until 2006, then the difference between them slightly diminished wave by wave until 2014.

They conclude that in Switzerland, health and well-being inequalities changed during the 2002-2014 period. Figures of temporal change included both increasing and decreasing social inequalities, with the first pattern (increasing inequalities) being more frequent. Long-standing, stable, social inequalities were also observed.

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