Social Determinants of Health

V. Key Issues: Population Health >> B. Public Health >> Determinants of Health >> Social Determinants of Health (last updated 2.4.17)

General Resources

Socioeconomic Status

Poverty, Income and Health

Measuring Poverty

Official Poverty Rate
Alternative Measures
  • Edsall, ThomasHow Poor Are the Poor? New York Times 3.25.15. Explains that U.S. poverty ranges from 4.8% (according to Christopher Jencks) to nearly five times that level (according to Center for American Progress), depending on how poverty is defined.
  • Matthews, DylanThe official poverty measure is garbage. The census has found a better way. Vox 9.16.15. Explains how poverty currently is defined and contrasts this to how the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) does so. It shows that according to SPM, pre-tax/pre-transfer poverty has stayed remarkably steady since 1967–hovering around 25%, but that after accounting for government cash and non-cash transfers, poverty has declined from 25% in 1967 to 16% in 2012.

Research and Analysis

  • Subramanian SVBelli PKawachi I. The macroeconomic determinants of health. Annual Review of Public Health (2002) 23:287–302. [Abstract]
  • Marmot M. The influence of income on health: views of an epidemiologist. Health Affairs (2002) 21(2):31–46. [Full Text]
  • Rehkopf DHBerkman LFCoull B, et al. The non-linear risk of mortality by income level in a healthy population: US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey mortality follow-up cohort, 1988–2001. BMC Public Health (2008) 8:383. [Abstract]
  • Muennig PFranks PJia H, et al. The income-associated burden of disease in the United States. Social Science and Medicine 2005; 61:2018–26. [Abstract]
  • Cristia, Julian P. The Empirical Relationship Between Lifetime Earnings and Mortality. Congressional Budget Office. August 2007.
  • Bosworth, Barry, Gary Burtless, and Kan Zhang (2016). Later retirement, inequality in old age, and the growing gap in longevity between rich and poor. Brookings Institution. Female life expectancy at age 50 for those with incomes in bottom 10% was identical for those born in 1920 and 1940 (80.4 years), but for those in top 10%, LE@50 rose from 84.1 to 90.5. For men, LE@50 rose slightly for bottom 10% from 74.3 years to 76 years while for top 10% it rose from 79.3 to 88 years.
  • Rector, Robert and Rachel Sheffield, ‘‘Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today,’’ The Heritage Foundation (July 19, 2011).
  • Eli, Shari and Nicholas Li. Caloric Requirements and Food Consumption Patterns of the Poor.  NBER Working Paper No. 21697. Issued in November 2015. How much do calorie requirements vary across households and how do they affect food consumption patterns? Since caloric intake is a widely-used indicator of poverty and welfare, investigating changes in caloric requirements and food consumption patterns is important, especially for the poor. Combining anthropometric and time-use data for India, we construct a quantitative measure of individual and household caloric requirements. We then link our estimates of caloric requirements with consumption data to examine how caloric requirements coupled with household expenditures shape food demand. Our applications include the measurement of hunger and the role of caloric requirements in explaining food consumption puzzles related to household-scale and changes in caloric intake over time.


  • Household Percentile Ranking (New York Times).  Enter your household income and see how you rank in 344 zones across the country; see summary table for selected household incomes ranging from $5,000 (bottom 2% to 383,001 (top 1%).


Wealth and Health

Research and Analysis

  • Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the 21st Century. 2014. Argues that since growth in capital (5% annually) invariably exceeds growth in the economy (~3% annually), wealth inequality inevitably will grow. He uses data from 1810-2010 to make this case.
  • Edward N. WolffTop Heavy (2nd ed. 2001). In 1929, before the stock market crash, the top 1 percent controlled 44.2 percent of the nation’s wealth.
  • Louisa Kroll and Kerry A. Dolan, ‘‘Inside the List: Facts and Figures,’’ Forbes, Sept. 21, 2011, available at Forbes 400 own approximately $1.53 trillion worth of assets, or almost $4 billion average.
  • Wolff, Edward N. ‘‘Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze — an Update to 2007,’’ Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, Working Paper 589 (June 2007). The top 10 percent own approximately 75 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the top 1 percent own nearly half of that 75 percent.


Education and Health

Occupation and Health

Psychosocial Factors

Income Inequality and Health

Racial/ethnic inequality and health

Employment Status and Health

Working Conditions and Health

Living Conditions and Health

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