Subproject 3 School and health inequalities in childhood and adolescence

While health inequalities in young people are receiving renewed scientific interest, little is known about potential factors and mechanisms that impact the relationship between family socioeconomic position and health in school-aged children and adolescents. The school represents a key institutional context for young people influencing their psychological, social and health-related development. Prior research on cognitive outcomes and self-concept in young people has highlighted the importance of compositional and contextual characteristics of the school within a variety of national and international studies.

However, not much is known about whether these characteristics are associated with health and well-being. It is also completely unclear how these meso-level characteristics can improve our understanding of health inequalities. The overall aim of the subproject is to investigate the role of individual as well ascompositional and contextual school characteristics in explaining socioeconomic inequalities in health in primary and secondary school children.

Following the conceptual framework of the research unit, the subproject will address the following research questions:

  1. Do individual-level determinants contribute to the explanation of health inequalities among students in primary and secondary education, and which determinants show the strongest relative contribution to the explanation of socioeconomic inequalities in health?
  2. Which compositional and contextual characteristics of classes or schools are associated with health and well-being in students in primary and secondary education?
  3. Is the association between socioeconomic position and health of students mediated or moderated by compositional and contextual characteristics of classes or schools above and beyond individual-level determinants?

To answer these research questions, a scoping review and several empirical analyses will be conducted together with SP 4. The review aims to identify characteristics at the class and school level that have been associated with students’ health and health inequalities. The empirical analyses are based on data from the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) and use three of its cohorts covering students from first to 13th grade, clustered in classes and schools. NEPS provides a wide range of data at the individual (students/parents) as well as meso level, with the latter either measured as contextual characteristics (teachers/school principals) or compositional characteristics (aggregated individual-level data). The research questions will be analysed using multilevel models. The analysis of these relationships is particularly important since compositional and contextual characteristics of the school context suggest different implications for school policies in counteracting socioeconomic inequalities in young people’s health and well-being.


Institute of Medical Sociology, Medical Faculty, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

  • Matthias Richter, Prof. Dr.
  • Max Herke