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4. Health and Social Stratification

Eero Lahelma

Subject Sociology of Health, Aging, and Medicine » Medical Sociology

Key-Topics class (social), health

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405122665.2004.00006.x


It is a basic assumption in medical sociology that social divisions shape people's health and illness. That poor health emerges from poor living conditions has been known for a long time. However, such views are not necessarily shared by lay people. There is, in fact, a paradox between the lay and expert conceptions of the reasons for poor health. While lay people may not recognize the bearing of adverse conditions for poor health, it is clear to medical sociologists and epidemiologists that health, illness, and death are profoundly determined by the social conditions in which people live ( Blaxter 1997 ). This chapter will draw on medical sociological research on the social patterning of health, illness, and death. The particular focus is on the associations between social stratification and health. It has become habitual to speak about health inequalities when examining morbidity and mortality differentials across various dimensions of social stratification, such as social class, education, or income ( Townsend and Davidson 1982 ). A broad, comparative perspective is used and evidence is drawn from different countries and, where possible, from international comparisons. For lack of comparable data, the scope is restricted to the (post-)industrialized or western countries. However, it should be borne in mind that the broadest health divide is found between the developed and the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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