A framework for the identification and classification of homogeneous socioeconomic areas in the analysis of health care variation

Ludovico Pinzari, Soumya Mazumdar, Federico Girosi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Detecting the variation of health indicators across similar areas or peer geographies is often useful if the spatial units are socially and economically meaningful, so that there is a degree of homogeneity in each unit. Indices are frequently constructed to generate summaries of socioeconomic status or other measures in geographic small areas. Larger areas may be built to be homogenous using regionalization algorithms. However, there are no explicit guidelines in the literature for the grouping of peer geographies based on measures such as area level socioeconomic indices. Moreover, the use of an index score becomes less meaningful as the size of an area increases. This paper introduces an easy to use statistical framework for the identification and classification of homogeneous areas. We propose the Homogeneity and Location indices to measure the concentration and central value respectively of an areas' socioeconomic distribution. We also provide a transparent set of criteria that a researcher can follow to establish whether a set of proposed geographies are acceptably homogeneous or need further refining. Results: We applied our framework to assess the socioeconomic homogeneity of the commonly used SA3 Australian census geography. These results showed that almost 60% of the SA3 census units are likely to be socioeconomically heterogeneous and hence inappropriate for presenting area level socioeconomic disadvantage. We also showed that the Location Index is a more robust descriptive measure of the distribution compared to other measures of central tendency. Finally, the methodology proposed was used to analyse the age-standardized variation of GP attenders in a metropolitan area. The results suggest that very high GP attenders (20+ visits) live in SA3s with the most socioeconomic disadvantage. The findings revealed that households with low income and families with children and jobless parents are the major drivers for discerning disadvantaged communities. Conclusion: Reporting indicators rates for geographies grouped according to similarity may be useful for the analysis of geographic variation. The use of a framework for the identification of meaningful peer geographies would be beneficial to health planners and policy makers by providing realistic and valid peer group geographies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number42
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Health Geographics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


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