The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.
Sometimes a headline will catch your eye, and this Guardian story jumped out at me: Well-off families create ‘glass floor’ to ensure children’s success, says study.
According the UK study by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, children from wealthier families with less academic ability were 35% more likely to become high earners than their more gifted peers from poorer background.
The explanation: wealthy parents were able to use their own social connections to find better job opportunities for their college graduate children. In some cases, these were unpaid internships with career-building potential- an option that gifted students with lessor means can’t afford.
The suggestion here is that while education is an important strategy for equity, it doesn’t automatically ensure a level playing field. The report suggested policy changes could be used to increase fairness for graduates, including ending unpaid internships and improving schools in socially disadvantaged areas.
According to the World Health Organization, closing gaps in educational attainment helps to close gaps in health outcomes. There are a number of benefits to education, but the most direct path between education and health is the likelihood of better employment prospects and the potential for higher income. With higher income, people can chose to live in safer neighborhoods, buy healthier food, and meet other material needs essential for health.
Policies and practices that open up opportunity for both education and employment are an important part of ending health disparities.