A capital-based approach to better understand health inequalities: Theoretical and empirical explorations

  • Yuwei Qi Yuwei Qi
  • Cok Vrooman Cok Vrooman
  • Josué Almansa Josué Almansa
  • Patricia Ots Patricia Ots
  • Sandra Brouwer Sandra Brouwer
  • Sijmen Reijneveld Sijmen Reijneveld

Background: The persistence of health inequalities may be driven by differences in education and income, but also by other economic and non-economic factors. Our aim was to explore how the association between single- dimensional health and socioeconomic status (SES) changes when including health-related person capital, economic capital, social capital, cultural capital and attractiveness and personality capital. Methods: We used a capital-based approach to understand health inequalities. It presumes intertwined relationships between broadly measured health (‘health-related person capital’) and embodied resources (‘attractiveness and personality capital’) on the one hand, and ESC capital, i.e., economic, social, and cultural resources on the other. We used cross-sectional data on 152,592 participants from the Dutch Lifelines cohort study and estimated correlations using partial least squares structural equation modelling. Results: The correlation between SES and health-related person capital (r =0.15) was stronger than the correlations between SES and single-dimensional health (physical and mental health; r =0.12 and r =0.04, respectively). ESC capital, combining economic, social and cultural capital, showed a correlation of 0.34 with health-related person capital. This was stronger than the correlation between health-related person capital and economic capital alone (r =0.19). Lastly, the correlation between health-related person capital and ESC capital increased when health related, attractiveness and personality resources were combined into a single person capital construct (from r =0.34 to r =0.49). Conclusions: This exploratory study shows the empirical interconnectedness of various types of resources, and their potential role in the persistence of health inequalities. Our findings corroborate the idea of considering health as a multidimensional concept, and to extend conventional SES indicators to a broader measurement of economic and non-economic resources.

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