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Social economic factors Essay

In society today there are many social-economic factors that may influence an individual’s health and illness. Thinking about health, it is acceptable in today’s society that health is not a fixed thing. More aches and pains come as people get older and this is accepted as a normal part of ageing, but these aches and pains for a younger person are not accepted as normal.

“It has been argued by many sociologists that what has been considered to be normal in one society or in one period of history may be considered abnormal or healthy in another” (Moore 1996 p334).

The World Health Organisation defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This definition has not been amended since 1948.

This piece of work will be looking at factors that may have an effect on a person’s health and illness.

Social class is the socio-economic classification based on the occupation of the householder. The UK office of population census and surveys has five categories. Category one: professional, two: intermediate, three: skilled, four: semi-skilled and five: unskilled (Brooker 1996).

Research has shown that depending on social class there are considerable differences in mortality. Out of sixty-six major causes of death in men, sixty-two are more common in social class four and five than any other class. Sixty- four out of seventy major causes are more common in women who are married to social class four or five men. Research has also shown that if a person is born into poverty then his or her chances of suffering ill health and a shortened life span are greater than if he or she was born into prosperity. A baby born into a family where the father is unskilled is more at risk than that of a baby born into a professional family, of being stillborn or dying in infancy (Baggot 1998).

Working class children are more vulnerable to illness and fatal injury. Parents from working class families are less likely to take them to a doctor than parents from middle class families. This may not necessarily be because they are unconcerned about the illness but because they may see the quality of care to be poor and costly. Health services in working class areas may be less accessible and of poorer quality. Middle class patients are more able to demand the care they need and therefore obtain better care from general practitioner in areas that are better served (Abercrombie et al 1995).

The poverty line is the dividing point between those who are poor and those who are not. There are two identified forms of poverty. The first being absolute poverty or subsistence level poverty. This is when an income falls below a level so that a person does not have the means to enable them to secure the basic necessities for living, in terms of food, water, shelter and clothing. The second definition of poverty is relative poverty. This is the standard that is generally expected by the society in which a person lives. It is defined in terms of a reasonable standard of living. Poverty is usually a problem of the working class, as other classes usually have pension schemes, savings and sick pay schemes for protection when ill-health strikes or old age arrives (Browne 1992).

Records show that the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9%. This is the joint lowest since records began in 1984. The claimant count fell in December 2003, which makes it the lowest claimant count since September 1975. Full-time workers have increased by 31,000 and part-time workers have risen by 10,000. Job vacancies in the past year have risen by 9,500. These statistics show there are less people on benefits than there was in 1975 (Office for National Statistics).

Many of the unemployed live in poverty and survive on state benefits. The longer the unemployment lasts the deeper the poverty becomes. There are many complaints normally associated with unemployment. Things such as boredom, sickness, sleeplessness, isolation, anxiety and loss of self- confidence (Abercrombie et al 1995). These complaints can lead to depression, which in turn can lead to a person no longer actively seeking employment.

The lifestyle a person adopts can have an important affect on health and well being. Smoking is a factor in illnesses such as emphysema, bronchitis and cancer of the lungs and throat. Diseases that are smoking related are difficult to cure and lung cancer survival rates are low. Poor diet can affect a person’s health. There are links between poor diet and bowel cancer, which is the second largest cause of death in the United Kingdom. Diet has also been implicated in heart and circulatory disease, and high blood cholesterol is recognised as a major risk factor for heart disease. Accidents, injury and poisoning are some of the consequences associated with drugs. There are also links between drug abuse, HIV and prostitution. The consequences for drug users can occasionally be fatal (Baggot 1998).

Sex education in schools needs to be improved. One that does not lead to sexual activity being increased. Truancy, low academic achievement and poor sex education are factors, which have been implicated in Britain having one of the highest pregnancy rates among 15-19 year olds. Teenage pregnancy is linked with high levels of poor social, economic and health outcomes for the mother and child. Surveys have found that during childbirth death is two to four times higher in 17 year olds or under than it is among mothers aged over 20 (Westall 1997).

Leisure is an important part of a person’s life. The type of leisure that a person pursues depends on a number of factors, more importantly the social class a person comes from. The more disposable income a family has, the more they are likely to indulge in leisure pursuits. Lower class families tend to spend any free time they may have outside working hours, watching television, going for walks and on the odd occasion when money permits, a fun day out. Higher-class families are more likely to have memberships to health spa’s, golf clubs etc and are more likely to indulge their children in hobbies such as horse riding lessons and swimming lessons. These types of hobbies are more beneficial with regards to health long term, than that of a person sitting indoors on a regular basis with little or no exercise.

A postal study was carried out in the west of Scotland in 1997 involving 6500 adults. The study ensured that all types of neighbourhoods were included in the correct proportions. The questionnaire received a 50% response and showed that 63% were homeowners. The findings showed owners are more likely to report their general health as excellent or good, less likely to have long-standing illness and have lower depression and anxiety scores. Owners are more likely to live in a house rather than a flat, have more rooms and a garden. Owned properties are less likely to have problems such as damp and cold (Macintyre et al 2000). It has been suggested that areas populated by poorer people score higher on environmental pollution, traffic volume and rates of road traffic accidents. They have fewer resources in terms of shops, recreational facilities, public transport and healthcare services than better off neighbourhoods (Graham 2001).

Being of a different race can influence the course and quality of a person’s life in society. Many adult migrants are under represented in professions such as law and medicine. Successful groups are usually those from African Asian backgrounds who have been well educated. Asians who manage to break away from manual work tend to run family businesses, which require long hours of work. Employers have adopted an equal opportunities policy. The aim of this is to ensure that everyone, regardless of his or her race, gender or religion now has an equal chance to gain successful employment. This can lead to a better standard of living, which in turn can lead to better health (Moore 1996).

Depending on the nature of health care an individual receives or the chances of them contracting a major type of disease comes down to social status. The divide between classes has and still does remain apparent. The wealthy class are able to opt for private medical care and are therefore able to avoid the long National Health Service waiting lists.

Studies in socio-economic circumstances that are related to morbidity and mortality have been inspired by suggestions that the early environment has specific influences, which alter later susceptibility to disease. The main outcomes that were measured were levels of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, morbidity and mortality from broad causes of death. The studies show that patterns emerge with higher death rates occurring with those who have less favourable socio-economic trajectories within their lives (Smith et al 1997).

The introduction of the National Health Service has given everyone the chance to receive better health care, which has lead to better quality of life. This now means that people are living longer than ever before.


ABERCROMBIE, Nicholas, WARDE Alan, (1995). Contemporary British Society. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

BAGGOT, Rob, (1998). Health and Health Care in Britain. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan.

BROOKER, Christine, ed. (1996) Mosby Nurse’s Pocket Dictionary. 31st ed. London: Mosby.

BROWNE, Ken, (1992). An Introduction to Sociology. Oxford: Blackwell.

GRAHAM, Hilary, (2000). Understanding Health Inequalities. Buckingham: Open University.

MACINTYRE, Sally, et al., (2000). Housing Tenure and Health Inequalities: ‘a three dimensional perspective on people, homes and neighbourhoods’. In: GRAHAM, Hilary. ed, 2000. Understanding Health Inequalities. Buckingham: Open University.

MOORE, Stephen, (1996). Sociology Alive. 2nd ed. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes.

Office for National Statistics. ‘National Statistics Online.’ Unemployment Rate at 4.9%: joint lowest since records began. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget _print.asp?ID=12. (4th February 2004).

SMITH, George Davey, et al., (1997).’Lifetime socio-economic position and mortality prospective observational study’. : British Medical Journal. 314 (22nd feb), p 537.

WESTALL, Jessica, (1997). ‘Poor Education Linked with Teen Pregnancies’. British Medical Journal. 314 (22nd feb), p537.

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