Document Type


Subject Area(s)

Attitude to Health; British Columbia; Demography; Geographic Information Systems (statistics & numerical data); Health Status Indicators; Humans; Multivariate Analysis; Poverty Areas; Principal Component Analysis; Psychometrics (methods); Residence Characteristics (classification); Self Concept; Social Class; Socioeconomic Factors; Urban Health


BACKGROUND: Over the past several decades researchers have produced substantial evidence of a social gradient in a variety of health outcomes, rising from systematic differences in income, education, employment conditions, and family dynamics within the population. Social gradients in health are measured using deprivation indices, which are typically constructed from aggregated socio-economic data taken from the national census--a technique which dates back at least until the early 1970's. The primary method of index construction over the last decade has been a Principal Component Analysis. Seldom are the indices constructed from survey-based data sources due to the inherent difficulty in validating the subjectivity of the response scores. We argue that this very subjectivity can uncover spatial distributions of local health outcomes. Moreover, indication of neighbourhood socio-economic status may go underrepresented when weighted without expert opinion. In this paper we propose the use of geographic information science (GIS) for constructing the index. We employ a GIS-based Order Weighted Average (OWA) Multicriteria Analysis (MCA) as a technique to validate deprivation indices that are constructed using more qualitative data sources. Both OWA and traditional MCA are well known and used methodologies in spatial analysis but have had little application in social epidemiology. RESULTS: A survey of British Columbia's Medical Health Officers (MHOs) was used to populate the MCA-based index. Seven variables were selected and weighted based on the survey results. OWA variable weights assign both local and global weights to the index variables using a sliding scale, producing a range of variable scenarios. The local weights also provide leverage for controlling the level of uncertainty in the MHO response scores. This is distinct from traditional deprivation indices in that the weighting is simultaneously dictated by the original respondent scores and the value of the variables in the dataset. CONCLUSION: OWA-based MCA is a sensitive instrument that permits incorporation of expert opinion in quantifying socio-economic gradients in health status. OWA applies both subjective and objective weights to the index variables, thus providing a more rational means of incorporating survey results into spatial analysis.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


© 2007 Bell et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

APA Citation

Bell, N., Schuurman, N., & Hayes, M. V. (2007). Using GIS-based methods of multicriteria analysis to construct socio-economic deprivation indices. International Journal of Health Geographics, 6(17).

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