Socioeconomic Background and Health

In a fair world, who you are or how you grew up wouldn’t impact your ultimate health outcomes. But unfortunately that’s not the reality. There are actually several demographic factors that are associated with how healthy you are and how long you live. And much of the time, patients don’t really have control over them.

As a professional in the field of public health, it’s important to understand that the patients coming in to your facility may have very different home environments and life situations. Getting a better sense of demographic correlations can help you as a health administrator to run appropriate programs and provide adequate resources to those who administer care.

hands-water-poor-poverty-400Is there really a disparity?

Some argue that any differences in health outcomes between demographics must be due to levels of education — that better educated individuals are at a greater advantage when it comes to understanding health information and thereby navigating healthcare systems. However, most epidemiologists believe that certain demographic factors can actually be underlying drivers of varying health outcomes. One such factor is income. Another is race/ethnicity. Consequently, epidemiologists argue that the impact of demographic factors on patient health aren’t just about education levels.

Differing outcomes

People who are richer are statistically likely to live longer than poorer individuals. While, lots of other factors have also been connected to health outcomes, let’s focus on income at the moment for a deeper look.

There’s actually several different levels through which income can affect health. Personal income and wealth matters of course — how much one makes in a given month or year, for example.  But health is also influenced by greater economic factors like the gross national product of the country one lives in, as well as how large or small the gap is between the richest and the poorest in one’s area.

Country to country

Because of these country-wide economic differences, it’s tough to compare poor individuals from one place to another. In some countries, clean water is hard to access if aren’t wealthy enough to live in a “good” part of the city. In the U.S., clean water isn’t as much an issue for most, even those with small incomes.

However, even in the U.S. it is still true that low-income individuals are more likely to develop illnesses, become injured or disabled, and to die early. Additionally, those with small incomes are more likely to live in areas with too much indoor or outdoor pollution and exposure to hazardous chemicals on the job. All of these factors can lead to poor health status.

Unfortunately, many medical providers aren’t sure how to be sensitive to the needs of low-income families, and so administrators might need to play a role in helping make sure the right resources are in place for care-providers.

Stay informed

Information is power. Understanding the ways that income, and other demographic factors can positively or negatively impact patient health will make you a better healthcare administrator. It’s a busy job with many competing priorities, and being better informed will help you juggle more effectively.