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Socioeconomic status of the Dutch population(1995-01-31)It is clear now that in Western European countries, a lower socioeconomic status is associated with a higher frequency of a wide range of health problems, and with higher mortality. In the Netherlands, this association has been observed for several health indicators measured by means of questionnaires, such as chronic conditions, health complaints and perceived health. Data on mortality, only available for men, also show a negative socioeconomic gradient. A 20-50% reduction of health problems is to be expected if the level of illness of the highest socioeconomic level applies to the whole population. Information on trends in the size of the socioeconomic inequalities in health is limited in the Netherlands. There is some evidence of an increase of the differences in mortality since the fifties, but data on differences in the height of children point at the opposite conclusion. Although part of the socioeconomic inequalities in health are probably the result of the effect of health on socioeconomic status (selection mechanism), most of the inequalities are expected to be caused by the effect of socioeconomic status on health, via an uneven distribution of more specific determinants of health. A lot of these determinants have been shown to be differentially distributed among socioeconomic groups in the Netherlands, e.g. smoking, high blood pressure, working and housing conditions, life-events and social support. There are hardly any studies, however, which try to assess the contribution of these more specific determinants to the observed socioeconomic inequalities in health. More and more powerful explanatory data should be generated to learn more about the background of these inequalities, in order to design policy measures.