Seven years in the lives of British families
Evidence on the dynamics of social change from the British Household Panel Survey

Seven: A measure of changing health

The BHPS data on family structures, employment, income and housing, on which previous chapters are based, have been the subject of detailed analysis ever since the panel data first came on stream in the mid-1990s. Much of the material covered so far has summarised work that has already been published in a series of more detailed, and sometimes more technically complex, papers. However, the survey also includes a substantial set of questions about respondents’ state of health, and their use of health services. These have not been analysed in anywhere near as much detail, and certainly not in a way that takes full advantage of the longitudinal structure of the data. The purpose of this chapter is to develop the analysis of the dynamics of ill-health. However, because the analysis of this part of the BHPS data is at a much earlier stage, it is necessary to start by considering some more technical issues than needed to be addressed in other chapters. The most commonly used survey-based measures of ill-health and impairment in Britain are derived from cross-sectional surveys. A sample of respondents is interviewed once, and asked questions about their current state of health. This provides an estimate of the number of people ill or impaired at any time, but it provides no direct indication of the rate at which people become ill or recover. This is true of the self-reported health measures obtained by, for example, the General Household Survey (ONS, 2000) and the 1996 Health Survey for England (Prescott-Clarke and Primatesta, 1998); and of the impairment measures obtained by the 1985 Disability Survey (Martin and others, 1988), the 1995 Health Survey for England (Prescott-Clarke and Primatesta, 1997) and the Disability Follow-up to the Family Resources Survey (Grundy and others, 1999).

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