Helsinki University main building. Photo: Linda Tammisto


The University of Helsinki, in collaboration with the German Max Planck Foundation, has established a research center focused on studying health from the perspective of social inequality. The center will commence its operations at the beginning of July. The research center enables cutting-edge population-based studies on health, with the aim of influencing society as a whole.

Scientific knowledge about the root causes of health disparities significantly contributes to promoting well-being and building a more sustainable society. The research center will provide policymakers with insights into the processes that give rise to health inequalities and offer potential strategies for narrowing these gaps. The research takes into account the entire lifespan of individuals and incorporates intergenerational knowledge.

Investigating population health disparities requires extensive data, which can be challenging to collect. However, the necessary datasets for the new center are already available.

The research center will assess the long-term drivers of health disparities, examine the significance of intergenerational effects on the persistence of these disparities, and explore the causal effects of social factors. Additionally, the center will investigate the joint impact of social factors and genetic predispositions on health outcomes and develop methods for health inequality research.

Socioeconomic health disparities are observed in all countries, and these gaps have been widening over the past 30 years. Individuals in lower socioeconomic positions may have an expected lifespan that is 10 years shorter than those in higher positions. The life expectancy of the poorest Finns has increased at a slower rate than that of others.

A better understanding of health inequality is also economically significant, as it has a substantial impact on healthcare costs and the number of lost work years, among other factors.

The Max Planck Foundation is a globally recognized research funding organization that supports cutting-edge research in collaboration with the world's top universities. The research center has initially been established for a five-year period, with funding amounting to 6 million euros. The center will also enhance the international visibility of Finnish science. In Finland, the center is funded by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa, as well as the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki.