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Socio-economic Resources of One Partner are Related to Health Status of the Other Partner

Copyright: Wavebreakmedia

Inequalities in health are not only caused by biological determinants, but also by social determinants like income or education. One’s own socio-economic position has been shown to often be an important predictor for health and mortality.

A recently published article by Jenny Torssander, Heta Moustgaard, Riina Peltonen, Fanny Kilpi and Pekka Martikainen sheds further light on the assumption that not only someone’s own resources affect health and mortality, but the resources of the partner one lives with also play a role.

Specifically, the authors looked at disease incidence and mortality for the two leading causes of death – cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer – using data from the National Hospital Discharge Register and population registers of Statistics Finland (e.g., dates and causes of death). The study population was a random sample of persons aged 40 and above who lived with a spouse or partner in Finland in 1997.

Results showed that individuals with a higher educated partner were less likely to experience the onset of CVD than those with a lower educated partner. The chances of surviving CVD were more closely related to the partner’s level of income. For cancer, the survival chances were shown to be better for people who had a partner or spouse with tertiary education and high income. Among men, the female partner’s level of education and employment status were connected to the onset of cancer, whereas the man’s own education or income showed no effect.

Overall, a partner’s level of education was associated more with the risk of onset of disease than subsequent survival chances. In contrast, a partner’s income appeared to be more important for survival than for disease incidence – especially for men. These findings suggest that social inequalities in health should not only be analysed and tackled on the individual level, but - in case someone is married or cohabitating – from a couple perspective. Considering not only individual factors of health and mortality, but shifting attention to determinants on the family level could improve the success of public health policies.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Johanna Schütz