An exploratory multilevel analysis of income, income inequality and self-rated health of the elderly in China.

Research paper by Zhixin Z Feng, Wenfei Winnie WW Wang, Kelvyn K Jones, Yaqing Y Li

Indexed on: 16 Oct '12Published on: 16 Oct '12Published in: Social Science & Medicine


In the last three decades, China has experienced rapid economic development and growing economic inequality, such that economic disparities between rural and urban areas, as well as coastal and interior areas have deepened. Since the late 1990s China has also experienced an ageing population which has attracted attention to the wellbeing of the rapidly growing number of elderly. This research aims to characterise province differences in health and to explore the effects of individual income and economic disparity in the form of income inequality on health outcomes of the elderly. The study is based on the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey data collected in 2008 for 23 provinces. Multilevel logistic models are employed to investigate the relationship between income, income inequality and self-rated health for the elderly using both individual and province-level variables. Results are presented as relative odds ratios, and for province differentials as Median Odds Ratios. The analysis is deliberately exploratory so as to find evidence of income effects if they exist and particular attention is placed on how province-level inequality (contemporaneous and lagged) may moderate individual relationships. The results show that the health of the elderly is not only affected by individual income (the odds of poor health are 3 times greater for the elderly with the lowest income compared to those at the upper quartile) but also by a small main effect for province-level income inequality (odds ratio of 1.019). There are significant cross-level interactions such that where inequality is high there are greater differences between those with and without formal education, and between men and women with the latter experiencing poorer health.