Health policies and data

Health Inequalities


Despite remarkable progress in health status and life expectancy in OECD countries over the past decades, there remain large inequalities not only across countries, but also across population groups within each country. These inequalities in health status are linked to many factors, including differences in exposure to risk factors to health and in access to health care.
Most OECD countries have endorsed, as major policy objectives, the reduction of inequalities in health status and the principle of equal access to health care based on need. The OECD regularly monitors to what extent these policy objectives are achieved, as well as the potential benefits and costs of various policy interventions that might help reduce health inequalities.


The Ageing Unequally project will enable Member and partner countries to design sustainable policy approaches to better adapt to population ageing. It will provide a greater understanding of compounded inequalities over the life-cycle by analysing the links between poor health and poor labour market experience during active years and poor social outcomes among the elderly. The aim is to identify points throughout the life of a person where policy interventions can address these challenges effectively and efficiently rather than waiting for when people retire. As older women are often the most vulnerable among the elderly, gender differences will be examined throughout the Project.

The Project will analyse two mega-trends: population ageing and rising income inequality in Member and partner countries. It will then examine to what extent health improvements and rising life expectancy are associated with rising health inequalities within countries. This will be followed by an analysis of possible interactions between ageing and inequality beyond health, such as labour market and social policies, skills and migration. The main deliverable will be an Ageing Equally Action Plan at the end of 2016.


Health and inclusive growth

Good health is a key aspect of people’s well-being and enhances opportunities to participate in the labour market and to benefit from economic and employment growth. People with poor physical or mental health are less likely to work and more likely to be unemployed than people in better health.
The relationship also works the other way around: people with higher level of education and higher income tend to be in better health and live longer than those with lower level of education and income.
Greater emphasis on public health and disease prevention, along with improved access to health services, can improve the health status and life expectancy of disadvantaged groups, and also increase their employment rates and social inclusion.


Key data

Inequalities in risk factors to health

Inequalities in health status are due to many factors, including differences in living and working conditions and in behavioural factors. Lifestyle behaviours (such as nutrition habits, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking and alcohol drinking) are important risk factors for many diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancers. People in lower socioeconomic groups are more likely to smoke, be obese and be exposed to other important behavioural risk factors. Greater efforts targeting modifiable behavioural risk factors among disadvantaged groups can play an important role in promoting healthier lifestyles, offering individuals better choices, and reducing health inequalities.



Key data

Inequalities in access and utilisation of health care

Nearly all OECD countries have achieved universal (or almost universal) health coverage for a core set of health services and goods, except a few countries such as Mexico and the United States which have both taken important steps in recent years to expand health coverage and reduce the number of uninsured people.
Still, inequalities in access to care exist across different socio-demographic groups, including by sex, age, geographic area and socio-economic status, for financial and non-financial reasons (including a shortage of health care providers in certain geographic areas).
Findings from OECD work highlight the importance of ensuring proper health insurance coverage for essential health services for all the population, as well as proper geographic distribution of health services across different regions in each country, to ensure effective access to care.



Key data

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