Department of Health

Inequalities in the social determinants of health and what it means for the health of Victorians

Key findings

  • Social isolation is strongly associated with poor mental and physical health.
  • Declining levels of social support and trust, intolerance of diversity and non-engagement with the local community are associated with poorer mental and physical health.
  • Compared with the lifestyle risk factors of smoking and obesity, lack of (or low levels of) social support and trust are more strongly associated with both mental and physical ill-health.
  • Almost all of the social capital measures investigated in this report show strong socioeconomic gradients, where lower social capital is associated with lower socioeconomic status.

Health is determined by a complex interaction between genetic inheritance, health behaviours, access to quality healthcare and the social determinants of health. It is the social determinants that make the biggest impact on health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the social determinants of health as ‘the conditions, in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems’ (WHO 2012).

The social determinants are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources and are mostly responsible for health inequities – the health inequalities that are unfair and avoidable.

This report investigates inequalities in the social determinants of health and how these impact on the health of Victorians, mainly focusing on the social determinants referred to collectively as ‘social capital’. Social capital is defined as the ‘resources that are accessed by individuals as a result of their membership of a network or a group’ (Berkman et al. 2014).


Reviewed 22 November 2023


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