Political economy and population health: is Australia exceptional?
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Background: It is accepted knowledge that social and economic conditions – like education and income – affect population health. What remains uncertain is whether the degree of inequality in these conditions influences population health and if so, how. Some researchers who argue that inequalities are important, say there is a relationship between political economy, inequality and population health. Their evidence comes from comparative studies showing that countries with neo-liberal political economies generally have poorer population health outcomes than those with social or Christian democratic political economies. According to these researchers, neo-liberal political economies adopt labour market and welfare state policies that lead to greater levels of inequality and poorer population health outcomes for us all. Discussion: Australia has experienced considerable social and economic reforms over the last 20 years, with both major political parties increasingly adopting neo-liberal policies. Despite these reforms, population health outcomes are amongst the best in the world. Summary: Australia appears to contest theories suggesting a link between political economy and population health. To progress our understanding, researchers need to concentrate on policy areas outside health – such as welfare, economics and industrial relations. We need to do longitudinal studies on how reforms in these areas affect levels of social and economic inequality, as well population health. We need to draw on social scientific methods, especially concerning case selection, to advance our understanding of casual relationships in policy studies. It is important to find out if, and why, Australia has resisted the affects of neo-liberalism on population health so we ensure our high standards are maintained in the future.
Australia and New Zealand Health Policy
© 2006 Boxall, et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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