PSYC144: Psychobiology and Culture of Pain
Paper 4: Socioeconomic Status and Health
This research report was written by Jo C. Phelan, Ph.D. and Bruce G. Link, Ph.D. in an attempt to devise a way to improve public health. They argue in their
paper that a person's health is "as much a product of education, financial
resources, and social status as it is of genetic make-up, personal habits, and
exposure to disease".(3) They argue the best course to improving public health
is to examine the effects of non-health policies such as tax laws, regulation,
minimum wage, Head Start programs, and parental leave benefits on poverty,
education, access to power, and other social factors that, they believe, affect
health. The paper supports my hypothesis in that it
recognizes health risks such as dirty water, poor hygiene, and diet as a
result of a person's lack of knowledge. Furthermore, the paper argues that the
ability to minimize the risk of contracting disease is directly related to
his/her socioeconomic status.
"People with access to wealth, knowledge, and power have the means to take
advantage of all the relevant health information available".(3) Because of this,
the wealthy are able to treat and prevent illnesses thus lowering the amount of pain they experience. The poor, however, do not have the same access and are left
feeling helpless when in pain. The socioeconomic demands of modern health
care prevent the poor from perceiving pain as an unnecessary burden on their
lives. The paper supports this theory by citing examples of previous cases
where socioeconomic status seemed to influence a person's ability to obtain
and utilize modern health care discoveries:
These examples are meant to show that historically, the lower class has not
taken advantage of the latest innovations and discoveries in health care. This supports my
hypothesis because it shows the connection between socioeconomic status and
pain. The examples of smoking, HIV/AIDS, and coronary artery disease
demonstrate that the poor continue to put themselves at risk even when
modern science has found ways to cure and prevent these diseases. When
applying these findings to, say, painful injuries or other health related
illnesses, one realizes that a person's low socioeconomic status
directly affects their perception on pain. Being unaware of proper health
care treatment renders the poor helpless to their pain. They do not know how
to treat their injuries or how to prevent developing them in the first place.
In order for health to improve in the lower class, there must be an effort to
educate the masses. It is useless to those of lower socioeconomic status to
develop health care treatments that are only accessible to the rich.
- The association between smoking and socioeconomic status did not surface
until well into the 1960s, when new information emerged about the
dangers of smoking. Until then, people at all points on the
socioeconomic scale were equally likely to smoke. But once this new
information spread among the population, people of higher
socioeconomic status were more likely to quit smoking and less likely
to start than people of lower socioeconomic status.
- When HIV/AIDS emerged, it struck all segments of society with little
regard for socioeconomic standing. But as public knowledge concerning
risk factors improved and as new, expensive treatments became
available, the socioeconomic gradient shifted. Today, HIV/AIDS is more
common among people who are poorer and less educated.
- Similarly, the evidence suggests that coronoary artery disease initially
was more prevalent among people in the higher socioeconomic brackets.
Again, as health conditions and health behaviors improved for persons
in higher socioeconomic brackets, the disease distribution shifted.
Today, coronary artery disease is more prevalent among people in the
lower socioeconomic strata.(3)