Health inequalities and health equity

Health inequalities are systematic differences in health between different social groups. Although socially excluded and minority groups are particularly vulnerable to ill-health, differences in rates of illness and health affect everyone: health and socio-economic status diminish continually along the “social gradient in health”. Health equity is the situation where systematic and avoidable health differences do not exist, though individual health will of course always vary.

Previous research has shown that a social gradient in health exists within and between countries. The magnitudes of the gradients vary, but progress in tackling them has stagnated and they appear to be becoming steeper in some places. The WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health and the Marmot Review of Health Inequalities reviewed the evidence and identified health inequalities as a major health challenge for Europe. Both identified (1) early childhood development, (2) employment and the work environment, and (3) income, welfare and social protection as important drivers for promoting and enhancing health equity. What is currently less well understood is what can be done to reduce inequalities: how knowledge of the main drivers, of effective policy interventions and of the impact of different policy options can be transferred into policy action.


Addressing the strategic Determinants to Reduce health Inequity Via Early childhood, Realising fair employment, and Social protection (DRIVERS) is a research project funded by the 7th Framework Programme (2012-2014) focusing on three key drivers of health. It aims to understand and promote health equity through policy and practice in early childhood development, fair employment, and income and social protection.


  • Scientific reviews bringing together existing knowledge and testing theories about how early childhood, employment & working conditions, and income & social protection affect health inequalities.
  • Novel data analyses using cohort and survey data, and focus group and interviews.
  • Assessment of existing research methodologies and development of more effective ones.
  • Research on existing advocacy methodologies, and development of more effective means of advocating effectively for health equity.
  • Case studies across Europe, individually tailored to context, with possibilities including evaluations of interventions, natural-life policy experiments, and focused studies using a diverse array of research methods, including focus groups, in-depth interviews and statistical analysis.
  • Development of recommendations for policy, research and practice to promote health equity.


Identify & <br/>fill-in gaps in knowledge

Identify &
fill-in gaps in knowledge

To review existing knowledge and identify and fill-in gaps in knowledge.

Analyse <br/>methods


To analyse methods used in research, improving or developing new ones and applying and testing them in case studies across Europe.

Advocacy guidance & policy recommendations

Advocacy guidance & policy recommendations

To identify and fill key gaps in knowledge about the conditions and policies driving these three social determinants.


The research is being undertaken by a consortium including leading research centres and organisations representing the public health sector, civil society and business who will collectively contribute to case studies and apply participatory approaches to help ensure that outcomes are grounded in socio-economic realities. With expertise of EU projects and policy issues, EuroHealthNet co-ordinates the project and leads on advocacy and dissemination.

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