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Study objective: The evidence supporting the effect of income inequality on health has been largely observed in societies far more egalitarian than the US. This study examines the cross sectional multilevel associations between income inequality and self rated poor health in Chile; a society more unequal than the US.
Design: A multilevel statistical framework of 98 344 people nested within 61 978 households nested within 285 communities nested within 13 regions.
Setting: The 2000 National Socioeconomic Characterization Survey (CASEN) data from Chile.
Participants: Adults aged 18 and above. The outcome was a dichotomised self rated health (0 if very good, good or average; 1 if poor, or very poor). Individual level exposures included age, sex, ethnicity, marital status, education, employment status, type of health insurance, and household level exposures include income and residential setting (urban/rural). Community level exposures included the Gini coefficient and median income.
Main results: Controlling for individual/household predictors, a significant gradient was observed between income and poor self rated health, with very poor most likely to report poor health (OR: 2.94) followed by poor (OR: 2.77), low (OR: 2.06), middle (OR: 1.73), high (OR: 1.38) as compared with the very high income earners. Controlling for household and community effects of income, a significant effect of community income inequality was observed (OR:1.22).
Conclusions: Household income does not explain any of the between community differences; neither does it account for the effect of community income inequality on self rated health, with more unequal communities associated with a greater probability of reporting poor health.