Social determinants

Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age. These conditions influence a person’s opportunity to be healthy, his/her risk of illness and life expectancy. Social inequities in health – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status across groups in society – are those that result from the uneven distribution of social determinants.

Social determinants of health and health inequities are amenable to change through policy and governance interventions.

Over the last century, average health status improved in Europe. However, these gains are not evenly distributed across countries or across social groups within the same country. Health inequities can be observed in higher and lower income countries alike across the WHO European Region.

Poverty is a key factor in explaining poorer levels of health between the most and least well-off countries and population groups within the same country. Yet differences in health also follow a strong social gradient. This reflects an individual or population group’s position in society, which translates in differential access to, and security of, resources, such as education, employment, housing, as well as differential levels of participation in civic society and control over life.

WHO/Europe supports Member States in tackling socially determined health inequities. It guides actions by providing sound scientific evidence and options for policy-makers to strengthen their governance capacity to systematically act on social determinants of health and reduce health inequities.