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Exploring the causes of health inequalities

Max Planck Center in Rostock and Helsinki

Inequalities in health and mortality are socially structured, can be observed in all societies worldwide and have increased in recent years. Researchers at the new Max Planck - University of Helsinki Center for Social Inequalities in Population Health (MaxHel) aim to use new concepts and a unique data set to uncover the central social processes that lead to inequalities in health - and thus life expectancy.

Despite numerous studies, the causes of social inequalities in health are still not fully understood. In particular, the reasons why health inequalities change over time, and under different social and economic conditions, remain unclear. What is certain is that health inequalities arise and persist within the family. They may vary according to family size, generational span, social acceptance or complexity. In contrast, the interplay between social processes and genetic factors underlying inequalities is largely unexplored.

MaxHel builds on old and new conceptual insights and a unique body of data to address these gaps in understanding. MaxHel draws on the expertise of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) and the Population Research Unit (PRU) at the University of Helsinki. The new centre goes beyond standard empirical research by using exceptionally detailed linked datasets and advanced dynamic modelling techniques. They will help uncover the crucial social processes that lead to health inequalities. MaxHel will make visible how social family constellations and genetic factors are intertwined with individual social characteristics, how they produce health inequalities, promote them in the long term until they finally manifest themselves socially.

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