Health and Social Class

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The aim of this essay is to examine the influence that socio-economic status has on an individual’s health.

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1948.)

Social Stratification is a term used by sociologists to describe inequalities that exist between society and us as individuals and can also be described as a hierarchy with the less privileged people at the bottom and the more favoured people at the top. (Giddens, 2006)

Anthony Giddens (2006) defines class as “a large-scale group of people who share common economic resources, which strongly influence the type of lifestyle they are able to lead.” (pg 300). Karl Marx, a sociologist in the 19th century supports this as he believes that class was “a group of people who stand in a common relationship to the means of production – the means by which they gain a livelihood”. (pg 301) Although the manuscripts that Marx was working on at the time of his death were disputed due to his discussions on class not always being consistent.

Max Weber, a sociologist in the late 1800’s saw social stratification in different light. He agreed with Marx’s theory that society was in conflict due to resources and power however, he believed that social stratification wasn’t just about class but also about status and party and that class didn’t just derive from a person’s control on society or maybe the lack of control but that economic differences had an overall impact on a person’s life chances.

Weber’s writings show that there are other aspects apart from class and how they strongly influence people’s lives and this allowed a more flexible basis than Marx provided in order to analyse stratification.

(Rose & Pevalin, 2001) identify two major traditions of socio-economic classification in Britain. The dominant one which was based on government statistics in relation to life, death and health and the other that was formed by British sociology as it analysed the various expressions of class identity and changes to in the British class structure from 1945 and onwards. (O’Donnell, 2005)

Class is more than just about money. A steel worker may earn the same salary than a store worker but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they fall into the same social class group. This matter will always be debated as some people consider themselves to be in a higher class than they actually are and it goes to show that there is no actually definition that everyone can agree on.

In 1911 the Registrar-Generals’ Social Classification (RGSC) scale was devised. This was in place to measure a person’s class based on their occupation and consisted of 6 different levels. I Professional, etc occupations, II Managerial and Technical occupations, III Skilled occupations, (N) Non-manual, (M) Manual, IV Partly skilled occupations, V Unskilled occupations. (Denny & Earle, 2005). The RGSC’s view was that social class described economic divisions of employment and industry. This scale intended to be more of a general classification of social advantage and disadvantage. (Fulcher & Scott, 2011). This scale is now out of date as it allocated men on the basis of their occupation, married/cohabiting women on the basis of her partner’s occupation, children on the basis of their father’s occupation and single women on the basis of her own occupation. (Class Notes, 19.06.2012)

Following a government review the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) has been in use since 2001 replacing the Registrar-Generals’ Social Classification and since that time has been used for all official statistics and survey (Fulcher & Scott, 2011). This scale provides similar data but it uses different categories. (Haralambos & Holborn, 2008).

In 1980 the Labour Government published the Black Report chaired by Douglas Black. Although this report found that there had been several improvements in people’s...
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