Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Socioeconomic differences in the burden of disease in Sweden

Rickard Ljung, Stefan Peterson, Johan Hallqvist, Inger Heimerson, & Finn Diderichsen



We sought to analyse how much of the total burden of disease in Sweden, measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), is a result of inequalities in health between socioeconomic groups. We also sought to determine how this unequal burden is distributed across different disease groups and socioeconomic groups.


Our analysis used data from the Swedish Burden of Disease Study. We studied all Swedish men and women in three age groups (15–44, 45–64, 65–84) and five major socioeconomic groups. The 18 disease and injury groups that contributed to 65% of the total burden of disease were analysed using attributable fractions and the slope index of inequality and the relative index of inequality.


About 30% of the burden of disease among women and 37% of the burden among men is a differential burden resulting from socioeconomic inequalities in health. A large part of this unequally distributed burden falls on unskilled manual workers. The largest contributors to inequalities in health for women are ischaemic heart disease, depression and neurosis, and stroke. For men, the largest contributors are ischaemic heart disease, alcohol addiction and self-inflicted injuries.


This is the first study to use socioeconomic differences, measured by socioeconomic position, to assess the burden of disease using DALYs. We found that in Sweden one-third of the burden of the diseases we studied is unequally distributed. Studies of socioeconomic inequalities in the burden of disease that take both mortality and morbidity into account can help policy-makers understand the magnitude of inequalities in health for different disease groups.