Theoretical and practical challenges of proportionate universalism: a review

Francis-Oliviero et al.


In 2010, the principle of proportionate universalism (PU) has been proposed as a solution to reduce health inequalities. It had a great resonance but does not seem to have been widely applied and no guidelines exist on how to implement it. The two specific objectives of this scoping review were: (1) to describe the theoretical context in which PU was established, (2) to describe how researchers apply PU and related methodological issues.


We searched for all articles published until 6th of February 2020, mentioning “Proportionate Universalism” or its synonyms “Targeted universalism” OR “Progressive Universalism” as a topic in all Web of Science databases.


This review of 55 articles allowed us a global vision around the question of PU regarding its theoretical foundations and practical implementation. PU principle is rooted in the social theories of universalism and targeting. It proposes to link these two aspects in order to achieve an effective reduction of health inequalities. Regarding practical implementation, PU interventions were rare and led to different interpretations. There are still many methodological and ethical challenges regarding conception and evaluation of PU interventions, including how to apply proportionality, and identification of needs.


This review mapped available scientific literature on PU and its related concepts. PU principle originates from social theories. As highlighted by authors who implemented PU interventions, application raises many challenges from design to evaluation. Analysis of PU applications provided in this review answered to some of them but remaining methodological challenges could be addressed in further research.

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