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health inequalities and socio-economic class

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Outline and evaluate the sociological explanations for health inequalities related to socio-economic class membership Over the past 100 years the health of UK residents has greatly improved. Factors such as clean water, sewerage systems, the development of vaccines, the birth of the NHS and innovations in medical science have all led to better health, overall. In 1980 the Black Report was published, it outlined the health inequalities present in modern day Britain and painted a bleak picture of the health of those belonging to relatively powerless groups in society. It contended that despite overall improvements to health, there were stark inequalities between higher and lower socio-economic groups. A range of sociological explanations have been offered to account for these differences, these, along with the types of health problems associated with socio-economic class membership, will be outlined and evaluated in this essay. Lower socio-economic classes are more likely to die younger and experience a range of health problems, including: Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), stroke, low birth weight, mental illness, smoking related illnesses amongst many others. They are more likely to work in dangerous jobs resulting in a high prevalence of work related illness; one example of this is working with toxic substances such as asbestos which has led to deaths from asbestosis in both workers and their families. ...read more.


The social selection approach contends that ill health is a cause rather than the result of low socio-economic position. It is argued that those with good health will 'rise to the top' of the socio-economic grouping as having good health is necessary to succeed in education and employment. Meadows (1961) found that sufferers of chronic bronchitis were more likely to experience downward social mobility than non-sufferers. In addition, Illsley (1980) found that higher socio-economic class or upwardly socially mobile females in Aberdeen had better health, better physiques, were taller and had babies with a higher birth weight than women in lower socio-economic groups. Although there is some evidence to support the claim that ill health is a cause rather than a result of belonging to lower socio-economic groups or being downwardly mobile there is more compelling evidence to support other explanations for health inequalities in the UK. The cultural/behavioural approach views health inequalities as being linked to the culture and behaviour of the lower socio-economic groups. This approach is influential in health promotion and has led to many initiatives to 're-educate' particular groups so that they are able to make more healthy choices in terms of their diets and risk behaviour, such as smoking and drinking. This explanation views the voluntary behaviour of the lower socio-economic classes as being the cause of their relative ill health. ...read more.


Poorer groups are more likely to be socially isolated or excluded, for example; many of the newer supermarkets, where food is cheaper, are now 'out of town' as lower socio-economic groups are less likely to have their own transport these supermarkets are less accessible and the poor may have to resort to shopping in local stores where food prices are higher. This could contribute to having to eat less nutritious food as this could be too expensive. Men from lower socio-economic groups are more likely to suffer work related illness, injury and death due to the hazardous nature of their jobs, it is not a choice to work in dangerous employment, rather, it is a product of the material conditions in which people live. The material deprivation of many areas means that there are limited facilities for leisure and exercise. Dangerous streets and the lack of green spaces in urban areas mean that lower socio-economic groups are less likely to be able to exercise. Poor health and mortality rates are not random but are patterned in relation to social group membership. Sociological explanations offer insight into why this is the case. Whilst some sociological explanations have more credibility than others, there is no one explanation that can fully explain health inequalities and socio-economic class. However, the most compelling explanations for health inequalities are offered by examining both the culture and behaviour of the different socio-economic groups and the material conditions in which they find themselves. ...read more.

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