Social class and health: Innovative theoretical exploration and empirical confirmation

Two broadly-defined approaches to conceptualizing social class can be applied to the empirical study of health inequalities. In the first, social class is equated with the socioeconomic status of individuals, i.e., with individual-level measures of wealth, educational credentials and/or occupational prestige. Explanations for empirical relationships between health and this particular conception of social class generally address material, behavioural or psychosocial phenomena, such as housing conditions, lifestyle choices or perceptions of relative standing. In the second, social classes are social groups, defined by the nature of their relationships to the economic mode of production and forms of control wielded in the workplace (the perspective of the neo-Marxist theorist Erik Olin Wright), or defined relationally in social space by their possession and utilization of various economic, educational, social and cultural capitals (the perspective of the French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu). In this tradition, explanations for class-health associations attempt to simultaneously address individual-level and group-level factors in a complex mix of agency and structure. Dr. Gerry Veenstra is investigating relationships between social class and health and well-being in Canada, integrating individual-level models founded upon material, lifestyle and psychosocial explanatory factors with social-structural theoretical frameworks inspired by theorists like Bourdieu and Wright. Building upon his previous work in BC, Dr. Veenstra will engage in an ethnographic exploration of different class positions and then administer a questionnaire survey to randomly-selected Canadian adults, assessing possession of various manifestations of control and capital. He will apply linear-causal statistical techniques such as regression analysis and relational techniques such as multiple correspondence analysis to this survey data in an attempt to identify and explain factors underlying social class and health inequalities in Canada.