A new psychological perspective on the relation between socioeconomic status and health

  • S. Elbert
  • A. Dijkstra


Background: Socioeconomic inequalities are related to many health and illness outcomes, partly because individuals with a lower socioeconomic status (SES) behave less healthily. Evidently, this group does not use all modern knowledge available in society about the relation between behaviour and health. Therefore, a new psychological perspective is developed to explain these mechanisms: Lower-SES individuals may not adopt health messages associated with higher-SES sources, due to the painful upward social comparisons these involve. Moreover, this leads to a lower-SES culture that keeps itself in existence, with its own perceptions, social influences and behavioural patterns. Methods: In a pilot study, we tested the assumption that lower-SES individuals do not have all knowledge about health. Parents with a low/medium (n =126) or high level of education (n =129) indicated their agreement with statements about the relation between overweight in their children and health. Findings: Compared to the higher educated parents, low/medium educated parents agreed less with statements about overweight being associated with a greater risk of developing diabetes (p = .01, η² =.03), heart and vessel diseases (p < .05, η² =.02) and cancer (p < .01, η² =.04, all controlled for parent’s BMI). Discussion: Lower educated people seem not to have the available knowledge regarding these behaviour-health relations. Our psychological perspective gives new insight into the relationships between SES and health, and why differences maintain to exist. Future research needs to test further assumptions, in order to better understand the lower-SES group, often underrepresented in health interventions and health promotion research.
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