When the technical is also normative: a critical assessment of measuring health inequalities using the concentration index-based indices
Contoyannis P., Hurley J., Walli-Attaei M.
Abstract Background Concentration index-based measures are one of the most popular tools for estimating socioeconomic-status-related health inequalities. In recent years, several variants of the concentration index have been developed that are designed to correct for deficiencies of the standard concentration index and which are increasingly being used. These variants, which include the Wagstaff index and the Erreygers index, have important technical and normative differences. Main body In this study, we provide a non-technical review and critical assessment of these indices. We (i) discuss the difficulties that arise when measurement tools intended for income are applied in a health context, (ii) describe and illustrate the interrelationship between the technical and normative properties of these indices, (iii) discuss challenges that arise when determining whether index estimates are large or of policy significance, and (iv) evaluate the alignment of research practice with the properties of the indices used. Issues discussed in parts (i) and (ii) include the different conceptions of inequality that underpin the indices, the types of changes to a distribution which leave inequality unchanged and the importance of the measurement scale and range of the outcome variable. These concepts are illustrated using hypothetical examples. For parts (iii) and (iv), we reviewed 44 empirical studies published between 2015 and 2017 and find that researchers often fail to provide meaningful interpretations of the index estimates. Conclusion We propose a series of questions to facilitate further sensitivity analyses and provide a better understanding of the index estimates. We also provide a guide for researchers and policy analysts to facilitate the critical assessment of studies using these indices, while helping applied researchers to choose inequality measures that have the normative properties they seek.