The “rich-poor” divide affects the health of today’s Brits more than those born a century ago, research suggests.
Socioeconomic status has long been linked to wellbeing, with the working and upper class gap allegedly widening since the 1970s.
To learn how the impact of income has changed, a scientist from University College London looked at the health of 200,000 Brits across several generations.
He found inequalities in long-term conditions doubled among women born in 1968-to-70 compared to those arriving in the early 1920s.
Among men, chronic disorders rose by 1.5 times over the five decades, results suggest.
“The results presented here show a widening in health inequalities by income in later-born British birth cohorts,” study author Dr Stephen Jivraj wrote in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
“They point to a greater future demand in healthcare from people in society who will be least capable of managing their health as they enter ages when [ill health] becomes more common.”
Dr Jivraj analysed the self-reported health outcomes of participants taking part in the General Household surveys.
These were carried out every three years between 1979 and 2011.
Dr Jivraj then created “birth cohorts” of the participants, ranging from 1920-to-1970.
Finally, health outcomes were matched against household salaries.
Results suggest just over a quarter (26%) of men born in the poorest households in 1920-to-22 had a “limiting illness” compared to 16% from the most well-off families.
In 1968-to-70, this rose to more than a third (35%) among the poor participants compared to 11% in the most affluent.
Among women, 15% of those born into the poorest homes in 1920-to-22 reported “not good health” versus nearly 8% with the richest backgrounds.
By 1968-to-70, this rose to 19% and 9%, respectively.
Exactly why the health gap has widened is not entirely clear.
It may be due to the “increased income inequality in the latter quarter of the 20th Century”, Dr Jivraj wrote.
The poorest in society may also not have benefited from the “postwar economic growth”.
With the NHS arriving in the UK in July 1948, those born after may “expect treatment”, prompting them to “self define as having poorer health”.
Dr Jivraj worries the health gap between the richest and the poorest will grow without action.