Should Health Studies Measure Wealth?

Recent studies have demonstrated that socioeconomic status (SES) affects an individual's health and health outcomes. Indicators used to determine SES include income, occupation, education and wealth. This study is concerned with whether researchers should more frequently include wealth as a measure. Wealth generally refers to an individual's or a household's accumulated financial resources. Since wealth can often buffer the effects of a low income, it may be more important in terms of health and health outcomes than occupation or income. However, wealth also is more difficult to measure.

The researchers examine the relationship between health and wealth through an extensive search of the literature from 1996 to 2002. They found 29 articles that met their inclusion criteria. Measures used to determine wealth varied enormously between the studies. However, in general, higher levels of wealth were shown to be associated with decreased mortality and better self-reported health, better functional status and fewer chronic diseases. The findings were most consistent when the study had defined wealth by evaluating an individual's specific assets and debts. In adjusting for wealth, many of the health disparities seen to be associated with race or ethnicity disappeared. The authors conclude that health studies should include wealth as an important SES indicator and that researchers should look for simpler ways to measure wealth.