Show Navigation

Resource Library

Proportionate universality

This resource is available in English only.

Experiences in early childhood have a direct effect on both a child’s health and their health and well-being at later stages of life. Children who experience marginalization in these early years are at greater risk for lifelong health challenges, including irreversible negative impacts to their ongoing development.

Addressing risks to a child’s developmental health at all levels of the social gradient, including strategies specifically designed for the most vulnerable children, is important for improving population health.

Research on child health outcomes

The Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) research network at the University of British Columbia (UBC) looks at early childhood development through an interdisciplinary lens centered around three main areas of focus:

  • The relationship between biology and development
  • The influence of early childhood on development over time
  • Policy and program monitoring to address child vulnerability

This policy brief provides an overview of the concepts of proportionate universality and the social gradient, the relationship of socioeconomic status to early childhood development and the importance of shifting the social gradient to improve child health outcomes.

A brief discussion of the importance of including both universal and targeted strategies is included, as well as an example of what a proportionately universal family policy framework would look like.

Use this resource to

  • facilitate a discussion about the difference between universal and targeted programs in public health;
  • initiate planning strategies for programs to reach children and families at all levels of the social gradient; and
  • advocate for changes in program implementation towards a proportionate universal approach.

Related resources

Let’s talk: Universal and targeted approaches to health equity

Learning from practice: Targeting within universalism (2014)

Public health speaks: advancing health equity through targeted universality (2013)

The gradient evaluation framework (2012)


Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP). (2015). Proportionate universality. University of British Columbia. Vancouver, BC.

Tags: Children & Youth, Public Health Organization, Policy Brief