Does comprehensive education reduce health inequalities?

Frank Popham*, Cristina Iannelli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article analyses the impact of comprehensive education on health inequalities. Given that education is an important social determinant of health, it is hypothesised that a more equitable comprehensive system could reduce health inequalities in adulthood. To test this hypothesis, we exploited the change from a largely selective to a largely comprehensive system that occurred in the UK from the mid-1960s onwards and compare inequalities in health outcomes of two birth cohorts (1958 and 1970) who attended either system. We studied physical and mental health, health behaviours and life satisfaction in middle age as outcomes and absolute and relative inequalities by social class (of origin and destination) and education. Inverse probability weighting was used to control confounding by socio-economic and education background, and ability test score taken prior to secondary school entry. We did not find consistent evidence that health inequalities were smaller under the comprehensive compared to the selective system and the results were robust under different model specifications. Our study adds to the sparse but growing literature that assesses the impact of social policy on health inequalities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100834
Number of pages13
JournalSSM - population health
Early online date6 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • comprehensive schooling
  • education policy
  • health inequality
  • tracking


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