Background: The magnitude of observable health inequalities between the unemployed and their employed counterparts differs considerably across countries. Few attempts have been made to test theoretical explanations for this cross-national variation. Moreover, existing studies suffer from important theoretical and methodological limitations. This study addresses these limitations and investigates whether differences in the generosity of social protection policies and in public attitudes towards those policies explain why unemployment-related health inequalities are steeper in some societies than in others. Methods: Multilevel logistic modelling was used to link contextual-level variables on social protection policies and public attitudes in 23 European countries to individual-level data on self-rated health from the 2012 wave of the European Social Survey. Results: The magnitude of inequalities in self-rated health between the unemployed and their employed counterparts varies significantly across countries as a function of cross-national differences in the level of social protection awarded to the unemployed and the level of public support for the welfare state. Conclusions: The results provide empirical support for the claim that governments can play a more active role in mitigating unemployment-related health inequalities by expanding the generosity and scope of social protection policies. Whether such an expansion of social protection will take place in the current climate of fiscal austerity is a political question whose implications merit the attention of population health scholars.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health