Structural and intermediary determinants of social inequalities in the mental well-being of European workers: A relational approach

Deborah De Moortel, Hadewijch Vandenheede, Carles Muntaner, Christophe Vanroelen

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The objective of this study is to examine social inequalities in employee mental well-being, using relational social class indicators. Relational social class indicators are based on theoretical insights about the mechanisms generating social (health) inequalities. Additionally, it is examined whether the psychosocial work environment and employment quality act as intermediary determinants of social class inequalities in mental well-being, simultaneously testing the mediation (differential exposure) and moderation (differential vulnerability) hypotheses. Methods: Data from the European Social Survey Round 2 (2004/5) and Round 5 (2010) were analysed. Mental well-being was assessed by the WHO Well-being Index. The measure for social class was inspired by E.O. Wright's class scheme. Three-level linear multilevel modelling was used to account for clustering of employees within research years and countries. Results: We found social class inequalities in mental well-being in the European working population for both men and women. Compared to unskilled workers, managers reported the best mental well-being, while supervisors held an intermediary position. As regards the mediation hypothesis, an unfavourable psychosocial work environment and low-quality employment conditions mediated the relation between social class and poor mental well-being in both men and women. However, low quality of employment relations only mediated the "social class-mental well-being" association in the male sample. As regards the moderation hypothesis, modification effects were seen for the psychosocial work environment and employment conditions in both men and women. Conclusion: Relational indicators of social class are related to mental well-being in European employees. Relational accounts of social class are complementary to stratification indicators in social epidemiology. From a policy perspective, better employee mental well-being and less social class inequality could be achieved through initiatives addressing the unequal social relations generated by structural positions in the labour process.

Original languageEnglish
Article number938
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Sept 9

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research for this article has been supported by the Research council of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium (research grant ‘OZR2094’), by the Research Foundation Flanders (G.0440.09 N) and the SOPHIE-project which has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Program Health (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 278173.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Deborah et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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