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Journal article

Poverty, wealth inequality and health among older adults in rural Cambodia

ZIMMER Zachery
Journal article citation:
Social Science and Medicine, 66(1), January 2008, pp.57-71.

Little research exists on health determinants among adults living in economically deprived regions despite the fact that these areas comprise a good part of the world. This paper examines the distribution of wealth then tests associations between wealth inequality and a variety of health outcomes, among older adults, in one of the world's poorest regions—rural Cambodia. Data from the 2004 Survey of the Elderly in Cambodia are employed. Using a disablement framework to conceptualize health, associations between four health components and a wealth inequality measure are tested. The wealth inequality measure is based on an index that operationalizes wealth as ownership of household assets and household structural components. Results confirm difficult economic conditions in rural Cambodia. The lowest wealth quintile lives in households that own nothing, while the next quintiles are only slightly better off. Nevertheless, logistic regressions that adjust for other covariates indicate heterogeneity in health across quintiles that appear qualitatively similar, with the bottom quintiles reporting the most health problems. An exception is disability, which presents a U-shaped association. It is difficult to determine mechanisms behind the relationship using cross-sectional data, but the paper speculates on possible causal directions, both from wealth to health and vice-versa. The analysis suggests the ability to generalize the relationship between wealth inequality and health to extremely poor populations as a very small difference in wealth makes a relatively large difference with respect to health associations among those in meagre surroundings.

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