Academy conference on health inequalities

2 December 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit disadvantaged groups in society much harder than others, widening the health gap between socio-economic groups. In a new report and at an upcoming conference, leading scientists discuss how a better understanding of the disparities between groups can help reduce health inequity.

‘In many European countries, differences in average life expectancy at birth between people with a lower and a higher level of education, occupation or income amount to between 5 and more than 10 years, and differences in healthy life expectancy often amount to even more than 15 years.’ This statement comes from the report published on 15 November 2021 by the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) and the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and authored by a committee chaired by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The report examines old and new research methodologies and concludes that a new generation of methods will help us to better understand health inequalities in Europe. These newer methods should complement conventional research methodologies, leading to a deeper appreciation of causal relationships. To make use of the full potential of these methods, however, the academies argue in a press release that investment in data infrastructures will be required.

A good example is the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics, the Dutch-American econometrist Guido Imbens, who is best known for having pioneered methods that produce an impartial measure of the impact of a policy on the economy. His work on ‘natural experiments’, studies that examine the consequences of variations not introduced by scientists themselves, are now also being adopted in research into health inequality.

Health inequalities are certainly not a new topic of research. They have been widely studied for the past four decades by researchers working in various disciplines. A number of crucial questions remain unanswered, however, for example regarding the extent to which socio-economic disadvantages have a causal impact on health, and the effectiveness of interventions to reduce health inequalities.


The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is organising a conference to discuss these issues on Wednesday 8 December. The programme will feature lectures by members of the committee that authored the recent advisory report and by independent scholars, as well as a detailed discussion of how Covid-19 and associated policies have affected socio-economic groups differently. The full conference programme can be found on our website.

More information

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