There are overwhelming inequalities in the health of Australians by all measures of socioeconomic status (as measured by education level, occupation, occupational prestige, equivalent family income and areas of socioeconomic disadvantage). For all age groups, working age men and women with lower socioeconomic status have higher death rates (up to two-fold differences for overall mortality and three-fold or four-fold differences for major causes of death), and report higher levels of illness and reduced activity due to illness. Education level and family income are independently associated with health status. The poorer health status of the socioeconomically disadvantaged largely explains their greater use of primary and secondary health services at the broad national level. Those of low socioeconomic status make less use of preventive and screening services and are more likely to have lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, risk drinking, overweight/ obesity and lack of exercise.

This report systematically documents health differentials among working age Australians (aged 25 to 64 years) in the late 1980s. It uses national population health data to construct a comprehensive set of health indicators covering mortality, disability, disease groups, specific diseases, self-perceived health, risk factors, health service use and, preventive screening services. Selected results were published by the National Health Strategy in its first research paper: Enoughto make you sick: how income and environment affect health.