Inspired by the ‘Fundamental Cause Theory (FCT)’ we explore social inequalities in preventable versus relatively less-preventable illnesses in Spain. The focus is on the education-health gradient, as education is one of the most important components of an individual’s socioeconomic status (SES). Framed in the context of the recent economic crisis, we investigate the education gradient in depression, diabetes, and myocardial infarction (relatively highly preventable illnesses) and malignant tumors (less preventable), and whether this educational gradient varies across the regional-economic context and changes therein.
We use data from three waves of the Spanish National Health Survey (2003–2004, 2006–2007, and 2011–2012), and from the 2009–2010 wave of the European Health Survey in Spain, which results in a repeated cross-sectional design. Logistic multilevel regressions are performed with depression, diabetes, myocardial infarction, and malignant tumors as dependent variables. The multilevel design has three levels (the individual, period-regional, and regional level), which allows us to estimate both longitudinal and cross-sectional macro effects. The regional-economic context and changes therein are assessed using the real GDP growth rate and the low work intensity indicator.
Education gradients in more-preventable illness are observed, while this is far less the case in our less-preventable disease group. Regional economic conditions seem to have a direct impact on depression among Spanish men (y-stand. OR = 1.04 [95 % CI: 1.01–1.07]). Diabetes is associated with cross-regional differences in low work intensity among men (y-stand. OR = 1.02 [95 % CI: 1.00–1.05]) and women (y-stand. OR = 1.04 [95 % CI: 1.01–1.06]). Economic contraction increases the likelihood of having diabetes among men (y-stand. OR = 1.04 [95 % CI: 1.01–1.06]), and smaller decreases in the real GDP growth rate are associated with lower likelihood of myocardial infarction among women (y-stand. OR = 0.83 [95 % CI: 0.69–1.00]). Finally, there are interesting associations between the macroeconomic changes across the crisis period and the likelihood of suffering from myocardial infarction among lower educated groups, and the likelihood of having depression and diabetes among less-educated women.
Our findings partially support the predictions of the FCT for Spain. The crisis effects on health emerge especially in the case of our more-preventable illnesses and among lower educated groups. Health inequalities in Spain could increase rapidly in the coming years due to the differential effects of recession on socioeconomic groups