The evolution of social inequalities in mortality in Belgium from 1970 to 2010: a general framework

Despite the effectiveness of our systems of social security and health care, social inequalities in mortality and health persist and even tend to widen over time. This work package aims to depict the evolution of inequalities in Belgium since the 1970s. Social inequalities will be defined using a multidimensional indicator, consisting of four dimensions – education, occupational status, housing characteristics and income (the latter being obtained indirectly).

Work package 1 will first use these social groups to analyse inequalities in mortality, with the objective of providing a general overview of the evolution of social inequalities in mortality in Belgium from 1970 to 2010. We hypothesize that the social gradient has widened over time in the context of a de-standardisation and a de-stabilisation of life courses in the familial and professional domains since the 1970s.

In a second step, we will analyse trends in mortality from 1970 to 2010 according to three dimensions – the level of educational attainment, socio-professional group and the housing conditions – taken separately, in order to measure their relative importance. Income will not be considered here because censuses did not collect the relevant information.

For these two steps, the analyses will take into account age, gender, nationality, region and area of residence (separating large cities, small and medium-sized cities, suburban and rural). We will address the following specific research questions:

  • How have social inequalities in mortality evolved over time, according to the age, gender and nationality?
  • Does differential mortality between the regions – a major trend in the demographic history of Belgium since at least the mid-19th century – weaken when controlling for the membership to specific social groups or to each of the three dimensions?
  • How did the excess mortality observed in urban areas evolve in a context of growing social polarisation between urban agglomerations and suburban areas? Does the spatial distribution of social inequality coincide with the geography of inequalities in mortality?