Previous research has identified a wide range of indicators of social isolation that pose health risks, including living alone, having a small social network, infrequent participation in social activities, and feelings of loneliness. However, multiple forms of isolation are rarely studied together, making it difficult to determine which aspects of isolation are most deleterious for health. Using population-based data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, we combine multiple indicators of social isolation into scales assessing social disconnectedness (e.g., small social network, infrequent participation in social activities) and perceived isolation (e.g., loneliness, perceived lack of social support). We examine the extent to which social disconnectedness and perceived isolation have distinct associations with physical and mental health among older adults. Results indicate that social disconnectedness and perceived isolation are independently associated with lower levels of self-rated physical health. However, the association between disconnectedness and mental health may operate through the strong relationship between perceived isolation and mental health. We conclude that health researchers need to consider social disconnectedness and perceived isolation simultaneously.
What are the social consequences of the recent expansion of newborn screening in the United States? The adoption of new screening technologies has generated diagnostic uncertainty about the nature of screening targets, making it unclear not only whether a newborn will develop a disease but also what the condition actually is. Based on observations in a genetics clinic and in-depth interviews with parents and geneticists, we examine how parents and clinical staff work out the social significance of uncertain newborn screening results. We find that some newborns will experience a specific trajectory of prolonged liminality between a state of normal health and pathology. Based on a review of related literatures, we suggest "patients-in-waiting" as an umbrella concept for those under medical surveillance between health and disease.
This article develops a series of hypotheses about the long-term effects of one's history of marriage, divorce, and widowhood on health, and it tests those hypotheses using data from the Health and Retirement Study. We examine four dimensions of health at mid-life: chronic conditions, mobility limitations, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms. We find that the experience of marital disruption damages health, with the effects still evident years later; among the currently married, those who have ever been divorced show worse health on all dimensions. Both the divorced and widowed who do not remarry show worse health than the currently married on all dimensions. Dimensions of health that seem to develop slowly, such as chronic conditions and mobility limitations, show strong effects of past marital disruption, whereas others, such as depressive symptoms, seem more sensitive to current marital status. Those who spent more years divorced or widowed show more chronic conditions and mobility limitations.
This article proposes several conceptual perspectives designed to advance our understanding of the material and experiential conditions contributing to persistent disparities in rates of morbidity and mortality among groups unequal in their social and economic statuses. An underlying assumption is that these disparities, which are in clear evidence at mid- and late life, may be anchored to earlier circumstances of the life course. Of particular interest are those circumstances resulting in people with the least privileged statuses having the greatest chances of exposure to health-related stressors. Among the stressors closely linked to status and status attainment are those that continue or are repeated across the life course, such as enduring economic strain and discriminatory experiences. Also taking a long-range toll on health are circumstances of stress proliferation, a process that places people exposed to a serious adversity at risk for later exposure to additional adversities. We suggest that this process can be observed in instances of trauma, in early out-of-sequence transitions, and in the case of undesired changes that disrupt behaviors and relationships in established roles. Effective effort to close the systemic health gaps must recognize their structural underpinnings.
In this article, I propose and define the new concept of cultural health capital, based on cultural capital theories, to help account for how patient-provider interactions unfold in ways that may generate disparities in health care. I define cultural health capital as the repertoire of cultural skills, verbal and nonverbal competencies, attitudes and behaviors, and interactional styles, cultivated by patients and clinicians alike, that, when deployed, may result in more optimal health care relationships. I consider cultural health capital alongside existing frameworks for understanding clinical interactions, and I argue that the concept of cultural health capital offers theoretical traction to help account for several dynamics of unequal treatments. These dynamics include the often nonpurposeful, habitual nature of culturally-mediated interactional styles; their growing importance amidst sociocultural changes in U.S. health care; their direct and indirect effects as instrumental as well as symbolic forms of capital; and their ability to account for the systematic yet variable relationship between social status and health care interactions.
This article examines the relationship between incarceration and health functioning. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the relationship between incarceration and more than 20 different measures of health are tested. Using multiple analytic procedures, a distinctive pattern of association emerges. Individuals with a history of incarceration appear consistently more likely to be afflicted with infectious disease and other illnesses associated with stress. In contrast, no consistent relationships were observed between incarceration status and ailments unrelated to stress or infectious disease. The results suggest that exposure to infectious disease and stress are important to understanding the lasting impact of incarceration on health.
We investigate the frequency and psychological correlates of institutional and interpersonal discrimination reported by underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese I, and obese II/III Americans. Analyses use data from the Midlife Development in the United States study, a national survey of more than 3,000 adults ages 25 to 74 in 1995. Compared to normal weight persons, obese II/III persons (body mass index of 35 or higher) are more likely to report institutional and day-to-day interpersonal discrimination. Among obese II/III persons, professional workers are more likely than nonprofessionals to report employment discrimination and interpersonal mistreatment. Obese II/III persons report lower levels of self acceptance than normal weight persons, yet this relationship is fully mediated by the perception that one has been discriminated against due to body weight or physical appearance. Our findings offer further support for the pervasive stigma of obesity and the negative implications of stigmatized identities for life chances.
Prior research on the association of mental health and behavior problems with academic achievement is limited because it does not consider multiple problems simultaneously, take co-occurring problems into account, and control for academic aptitude. We addressed these limitations using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N = 6,315). We estimated the associations of depression, attention problems, delinquency, and substance use with two indicators of academic achievement (high school GPA and highest degree received) with controls for academic aptitude. Attention problems, delinquency, and substance use were significantly associated with diminished achievement, but depression was not. Combinations of problems involving substance use were especially consequential. Our results demonstrate that the social consequences of mental health problems are not the inevitable result of diminished functional ability but, rather, reflect negative social responses. These results also encourage a broader perspective on mental health by demonstrating that behavior problems heighten the negative consequences of more traditional forms of distress.
Psychiatric disorders are unusually prevalent among current and former inmates, but it is not known what this relationship reflects. A putative causal relationship is contaminated by assorted influences, including childhood disadvantage, the early onset of most disorders, and the criminalization of substance use. Using the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (N = 5692), we examine the relationship between incarceration and psychiatric disorders after statistically adjusting for multidimensional influences. The results indicate that (1) some of the most common disorders found among former inmates emerge in childhood and adolescence and therefore predate incarceration; (2) the relationships between incarceration and disorders are smaller for current disorders than lifetime disorders, suggesting that the relationship between incarceration and disorders dissipates over time; and (3) early substance disorders anticipate later incarceration and other psychiatric disorders simultaneously, indicating selection. Yet the results also reveal robust and long-lasting relationships between incarceration and certain disorders, which are not inconsequential for being particular. Specifically, incarceration is related to subsequent mood disorders, related to feeling "down," including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia. These disorders, in turn, are strongly related to disability, more strongly than substance abuse disorders and impulse control disorders. Although often neglected as a health consequence of incarceration, mood disorders might explain some of the additional disability former inmates experience following release, elevating their relevance for those interested in prisoner reintegration.
Research on perceived discrimination has overwhelmingly focused on one form of discrimination, especially race discrimination, in isolation from other forms. The present article uses data from the Black Youth Culture Survey, a nationally representative, racially and ethnically diverse sample of 1,052 adolescents and young adults to investigate the prevalence, distribution, and mental and physical health consequences of multiple forms of perceived discrimination. The findings suggest that disadvantaged groups, especially multiply disadvantaged youth, face greater exposure to multiple forms of discrimination than their more privileged counterparts. The experience of multiple forms of discrimination is associated with worse mental and physical health above the effect of only one form and contributes to the relationship between multiple disadvantaged statuses and health. These findings suggest that past research may misspecify the discrimination-health relationship and fails to account for the disproportionate exposure to discrimination faced by multiply disadvantaged individuals.
Social scientists and other analysts have written about medicalization since at least the 1970s. Most of these studies depict the medical profession, interprofessional or organizational contests, or social movements and interest groups as the prime movers toward medicalization. This article contends that changes in medicine in the past two decades are altering the medicalization process. Using several case examples, I argue that three major changes in medical knowledge and organization have engendered an important shift in the engines that drive medicalization: biotechnology (especially the pharmaceutical industry and genetics), consumers, and managed care. Doctors are still gatekeepers for medical treatment, but their role has become more subordinate in the expansion or contraction of medicalization. Medicalization is now more driven by commercial and market interests than by professional claims-makers. The definitional center of medicalization remains constant, but the availability of new pharmaceutical and potential genetic treatments are increasingly drivers for new medical categories. This requires a shift in the sociological focus examining medicalization for the twenty-first century.
This article investigates a change in the structuring of work time, using a natural experiment to test whether participation in a corporate initiative (Results Only Work Environment; ROWE) predicts corresponding changes in health-related outcomes. Drawing on job strain and stress process models, we theorize greater schedule control and reduced work-family conflict as key mechanisms linking this initiative with health outcomes. Longitudinal survey data from 659 employees at a corporate headquarters shows that ROWE predicts changes in health-related behaviors, including almost an extra hour of sleep on work nights. Increasing employees' schedule control and reducing their work-family conflict are key mechanisms linking the ROWE innovation with changes in employees' health behaviors; they also predict changes in well-being measures, providing indirect links between ROWE and well-being. This study demonstrates that organizational changes in the structuring of time can promote employee wellness, particularly in terms of prevention behaviors.
Although incarceration rates have risen sharply since the 1970s, medical sociology has largely neglected the health effects of imprisonment. Incarceration might have powerful effects on health, especially if it instills stigma, and it could provide sociologists with another mechanism for understanding health disparities. This study identifies some of incarceration's direct and indirect effects and rigorously tests them using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It finds that incarceration has powerful effects on health, but only after release. A history of incarceration strongly increases the likelihood of severe health limitations. Furthermore, any contact with prison is generally more important than the amount of contact, a finding consistent with a stigma-based interpretation. Although this relationship is partly attributable to diminished wage growth and marital instability, the bulk of the effect remains even under the most stringent of specifications, including controls for intelligence and the use of fixed effects, suggesting a far-reaching process with a proliferation of risk factors. The study also finds that incarceration contributes only modestly to racial disparities, that there are few synergistic interactions between incarceration and other features of inequality, including schooling, and that the evidence for a causal effect is much weaker among persistent recidivists and those serving exceptionally long sentences. These study findings are inconsistent with recent speculation; nevertheless, incarceration is an important addition to sociology's research agenda. Exploring incarceration could lead to, among other things, a fruitful synergy among studies on fundamental causes, stigma, and stress.
Although the meanings and rates of being married, divorced, separated, never-married, and widowed have changed significantly over the past several decades, we know very little about historical trends in the relationship between marital status and health. Our analysis of pooled data from the National Health Interview Survey from 1972 to 2003 shows that the self-rated health of the never-married has improved over the past three decades. Moreover, the gap between the married and the never married has steadily converged over time for men but not for women. In contrast, the self-rated health of the widowed, divorced, and separated worsened over time relative to the married, and the adverse effects of marital dissolution have increased more for women than for men. Our findings highlight the importance of social change in shaping the impact of marital status on self-reported health and challenge long-held assumptions about gender, marital status, and health.
Living in a threatening, noxious, and dangerous neighborhood may produce anxiety, anger, and depression because it is subjectively alienating. We hypothesize that neighborhood disorder represents ambient threat that elicits perceptions of powerlessness, normlessness, mistrust, and isolation. These perceptions in turn lead to anxious and angry agitation, and depressed exhaustion. We use data from the 1995 Community, Crime, and Health survey, a probability sample of 2,482 adults in Illinois, with a follow-up survey in 1998. We find that perceived neighborhood disorder is associated with high levels of anxiety, anger, and depression. Personal victimization mediates about 10 percent of the association. The rest of the association is mediated primarily by mistrust and, secondarily, by perceived powerlessness. Normlessness reflects neighborhood disorder, but it appears to have little influence on distress. Social isolation has trade-offs in its connections to neighborhood disorder and to distress.
This article utilizes the agency-structure debate as a framework for constructing a health lifestyle theory. No such theory currently exists, yet the need for one is underscored by the fact that many daily lifestyle practices involve considerations of health outcomes. An individualist paradigm has influenced concepts of health lifestyles in several disciplines, but this approach neglects the structural dimensions of such lifestyles and has limited applicability to the empirical world. The direction of this article is to present a theory of health lifestyles that includes considerations of both agency and structure, with an emphasis upon restoring structure to its appropriate position. The article begins by defining agency and structure, followed by presentation of a health lifestyle model and the theoretical and empirical studies that support it.
Medicine and epidemiology currently dominate the study of the strong association between socioeconomic status and mortality. Socioeconomic status typically is viewed as a causally irrelevant "confounding variable" or as a less critical variable marking only the beginning of a causal chain in which intervening risk factors are given prominence. Yet the association between socioeconomic status and mortality has persisted despite radical changes in the diseases and risk factors that are presumed to explain it. This suggests that the effect of socioeconomic status on mortality essentially cannot be understood by reductive explanations that focus on current mechanisms. Accordingly, Link and Phelan (1995) proposed that socioeconomic status is a "fundamental cause" of mortality disparities-that socioeconomic disparities endure despite changing mechanisms because socioeconomic status embodies an array of resources, such as money, knowledge, prestige, power, and beneficial social connections, that protect health no matter what mechanisms are relevant at any given time. We identified a situation in which resources should be less helpful in prolonging life, and derived the following prediction from the theory: For less preventable causes of death (for which we know little about prevention or treatment), socioeconomic status will be less strongly associated with mortality than for more preventable causes. We tested this hypothesis with the National Longitudinal Mortality Study, which followed Current Population Survey respondents (N = 370,930) for mortality for nine years. Our hypothesis was supported, lending support to the theory of fundamental causes and more generally to the importance of a sociological approach to the study of socioeconomic disparities in mortality.
This article seeks to elucidate the relationship between socioeconomic position and health by showing how different facets of socioeconomic position (education and income) affect different stages (onset vs. progression) of health problems. The biomedical literature has generally treated socioeconomic position as a unitary construct. Likewise, the social science literature has tended to treat health as a unitary construct. To advance our understanding of the relationship between socioeconomic position and health, and ultimately to foster appropriate policies and practices to improve population health, a more nuanced approach is required—one that differentiates theoretically and empirically among dimensions of both socioeconomic position and health. Using data from the Americans' Changing Lives Study (1986 through 2001/2002), we show that education is more predictive than income of the onset of both functional limitations and chronic conditions, while income is more strongly associated than education with the progression of both.
The health and survival benefits of social embeddedness have been widely documented across social species, but the underlying biophysiological mechanisms have not been elucidated in the general population. We assessed the process by which social isolation increases the risk for all-cause and chronic disease mortality through proinflammatory mechanisms. Using the 18-year mortality follow-up data (n = 6,729) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-2006) on Social Network Index and multiple markers of chronic inflammation, we conducted survival analyses and found evidence that supports the mediation role of chronic inflammation in the link between social isolation and mortality. A high-risk fibrinogen level and cumulative inflammation burden may be particularly important in this link. There are notable sex differences in the mortality effects of social isolation in that they are greater for men and can be attributed in part to their heightened inflammatory responses.
It has been hypothesized that exposure to stress and negative life events is related to poor health outcomes, and that differential exposure to stress plays a role in socioeconomic disparities in health. Data from three waves of the Americans' Changing Lives study (n = 3,617) were analyzed to investigate prospectively the relationship among socioeconomic indicators, five measures of stress/negative life events, and the health outcomes of mortality, functional limitations, and self rated health. The results revealed that (1) life events and other types of stressors are clearly related to socioeconomic position; (2) a count of negative lifetime events was positively associated with mortality; (3) a higher score on a financial stress scale was predictive of severe/moderate functional limitations and fair/poor self-rated health at wave 3; and (4) a higher score on a parental stress scale was predictive of fair/poor self rated health at wave 3. The negative effects of low income on functional limitations attenuated to insignificance when waves 1 and 2 stress/life event measures were controlled for, but other socioeconomic disparities in health change remained sizable and significant when adjusted for exposure to stressors. The results support the hypothesis that differential exposure to stress and negative life events is one of many ways in which socioeconomic inequalities in health are produced in society.