Skip main navigation

The social determinants of health

Read this article to find out about the social determinants of health.
Social determinants of health graph
© The University of Dundee

Inequalities are the differences of status or distribution of many different things between population groups.

In this course, we’ll focus on health inequalities – that is, the differences in health status or the distribution of issues that impact health – between people living in different areas of the country, in different age groups, or from different social classes.

Although this course focuses on health, it’s impossible to look at any inequality on its own. Factors work together to trigger inequalities. These are the social determinants of health and are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.

Social determinants of health include external factors such as:

  • Income
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Environment
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Social integration

They also include internal factors like:

  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Gender

What matters?

To rank county areas by population health, researchers in the USA developed a weighting system for the social determinants of health, based on the impact that each has on good health for the population. Here’s what they came up with:

40% Socioeconomic factors; 30% Lifestyle factors; 20% Clinical care; 10% Environmental factors Weighting of socioeconomic factors (Click to expand)

Questions for discussion

  • This guideline can help us to decide where to apply our efforts to try and reduce health inequalities. Do you agree with the researchers’ weighting?
  • Has your awareness of the social determinants of health changed over time, or due to the different places where you have lived or worked?
  • How do the social determinants of health affect people in your community?

Start the discussion on the board below and read through other learners’ comments to get a feel for the similarities and differences.

© The University of Dundee
This article is from the free online

Tackling Inequalities Through Health and Social Care Design

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education