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Title:   Sociological perspectives on health and illness emphasise that it is vital to understand structural and social factors in order to fully understand people’s experiences of health and illness.   Discuss using examples from your work/life experience and support these with theories from the module. 


Sociology is a broad discipline that relates to other disciplines such as medicine. In particular, sociological perspectives on health and illness provide an in-depth understanding of the linkage societal and health patterns.  The sociological perspective explores the impact of different social factors such as social class and power, ethnicity and gender on the process of acquisition of knowledge on various illnesses (White 2009). The level of awareness influences individual and societal behavior towards engaging in preventive measures or seeking treatment for different diseases and ailments. What is more, sociological perspectives help in understanding causes of diseases that emanate from social organization, which informs the preventative measures taken to curb spread of such diseases. Sociological perspectives on health and illness are an important facet in medical sociology and medicine field.

On the other hand, sociological theories provide information used to explain the sociological perspectives on health and illness. Some of these theories include the political economy theory, functionalism and feminism (Giddens 2010). These theories help in the process of understanding the existent relationships between social agents. In this case, social agents refer to people, culture, ideology and organization. What is more, the theories help in the process of understanding the environment that facilitates the creation of medical-related knowledge in the general population.

Without a doubt, sociology and sociological perspectives on health and illness help in the process of deciphering social patterns that relate to the spread and prevention of diseases. In particular, the discipline provides a unique perspective for exploring the causes of diseases and ailments. It helps to form part of an expanded understanding of diseases from the traditional biological explanations. Moreover, sociological perspectives help planners to put in place viable mechanisms to check the spread of disease based on social factors including socio-economic class, gender and ethnicity.

Political Economy

The Marxist school of thought influences the political economy theory heavily (White 2009). In fact, it forms the basis from which, an individual fathoms the rise of capitalist tendencies and consequently, the emergence of social classes. In this context, the Marxist school of thought postulates that certain economic interests lead to production of diseases and consequently, the mechanisms put in place to address the spread of a disease. The Marxist ideology claims that the profit-making motive is the primary objective for different players in the medical fraternity, specifically, the healthcare providers.

The political economy influences the access to quality healthcare services among different people. Of course, individuals with high income can afford quality medical services, which, reduces the mortality rate in that particular class. Equally, individuals who belong to the middle class can afford quality healthcare based on arrangements such insurance schemes that enable them to make moderate payments in anticipation of diseases in future. However, the lower social class that comprises of individuals with meager income suffers the blunt of the political economy. Obviously, these individuals cannot afford good medical services and rely on the public health system. Low financial and human resource investment in public healthcare systems affects the quality of medical services and that of life among individuals from the lower social class (Armstrong 2003).

The political economy in a country affects access to quality medical services among individuals from distinctive social classes. The political class that controls the policy-making process in different countries does not comprehend and appreciate the difficulties that common citizens face in their quest to get quality medical services. In fact, the reason that the ruling class cannot understand such difficulties is that it belongs to the upper social class thus can afford quality health care (Gidden 2010). The above differences in level of income and profit-making motive among health-care providers lock out the poor and influence the patterns of spread of different diseases.

Without a doubt, the political class influences the economic and social policies in a country. In this regard, politicians should to take into account the needs of all citizens, even though they do not understand some of them. Indeed, such a move will influence the disease spread patterns such as prevalence of waterborne disease in some developing countries. Equally, access to quality healthcare in developed countries such as the United Kingdom will help to reduce the mortality rate from diseases such as cancer among the low class citizens. Moreover, it helps to address the notion that the healthcare providers ascribe to the profit-making motive, as highlighted under the Marxist ideology, at the expense of protecting life.


Functionalism is sociological theory whose main argument is that the society consists of different parts that perform specific functions (Ransome 2010). Of course, the proper functioning of all parts that form the society helps to create stability and order.  In particular, these parts of the society such as family and state are interdependent thus; a malfunction in one of the parts affects the whole system. Moreover, each part of the society fulfills specific needs for different members of the society. Functionalism as a sociological theory was advanced by Emile Durkheim first, but was later adopted as a mainstream sociological theory based on the work of other sociologists including Robert Merton.

Functionalism revolves around the basic operation of the society. In particular, it explores the role of family unit, state and religion. In particular, the roles of the institutions come to the fore as they help in maintaining social equilibrium (Ransome 2010). For instance, the family forms the basic unit from which individuals understand and appreciate the values and norms of the society. In fact, based on the interactions at the family level, all individuals understand the societal expectations and work towards ensuring that their behavior conforms to such expectations. On the other hand, the state provides essential services including education, security and health. Family members attend education institutions where they gain knowledge and skills that make them an essential part of the human resource in a country. They provide the labor that drives the production processes in the country and in turn, get salaries and wages as remuneration.

The interdependent relationship between different parts of the society means that an incident that affects a single part affects the whole system. Certainly, this relates the sociological perspective of health and wellness, and in particular, the health status of the general population. Undeniably, the population in a country or a region is the main source of human resource. Therefore, it is imperative for the state to ensure that households have adequate income to maintain a desirable diet and nutrition. Furthermore, members of different households in a country or a region should be in a position to access quality health services. Surely, such efforts help in the process of maintaining a healthy nation. In this context, when one of parts, for instance households or families, becomes unstable due to low income, it inhibits nutrition and access to health services that in turn affect the health of workers available for production activities in the economy. As a result, the state loses production hours and income that would have been generated in that time and the taxes from goods and services produced (Fox 2015). The scenario portrays the interdependent nature of the different parts of the society as explained under functionalism.


Feminism touches on the aspect of gender equality and access to economic and social opportunities among members of different genders. In particular, feminism relates to the rights and privileges that women enjoy within a patriarchal society.  In fact, feminists argue that the patriarchal society has always advanced certain ideologies aimed at maintaining the status quo.  What is more, feminists indicate that health issues concerning women often revolve around reproduction that helps to propel the patriarchal nature of the society (White 2009). Obviously, women have many more health issues but all the attention is directed towards reproductive health issues that, often leads to misuse of resources. Indeed, such resources would be helpful in the process of addressing other pertinent matters relating to women health.

Feminists insist that the sociological perspective associated to women health helps to drive the notion that women are inferior to their male counterparts. Specifically, the notion alludes to the fact that role of women is constrained to the domestic shores and child rearing (White 2009). Of course, such a perspective limits the potential amongst women, as most of them are not in a position to join male dominated fields.  Moreover, the notion that women can perform simple domestic chores and jobs holds in different fields including medicine. For a long time in the medical field, the job of a nurse was a special preserve for women. Of course, the contentious issue that arose at the time was whether women would hold any other positions apart from being nurses in the medical fraternity. However, the inferior perspective associated with women continues to decline in most developed countries such as the United Kingdom. In fact, an increased number of women have taken up careers other than nursing within the medical field that has increased their contribution in the field. What is more, a similar scenario continues to replicate itself in other professional fields.

Clearly, sociological theories provide a vivid illustration of different sociological perspectives use to explain health and illnesses. What is more, there are based on various social factors including social class, culture and ethnicity and gender. Specifically, the political economic theory revolves around capitalist tendencies and their role as inhibitors to access to quality health among members of lower socioeconomic class. Equally, the functionalism exemplifies the interdependence between different parts of the society. Functionalism is premised on the fact that the society comprises of different parts thus, all those parts should operate well to realize stability within it. On the other hand, feminism focuses on women. Specifically, feminism addresses the perception and role of women in a patriarchal society in relation of health issues. Indeed, all the theories provide a good basis for understanding the sociological perspectives concerning health and illness. What is more, they highlight several factors that can be explored further in an effort to understand the distribution of health and illness.

One of the factors that affect the distribution of health and illness is class. In this case, class refers to the socioeconomic status of different individuals that has a direct impact on the access of essential health services. Obviously, individuals with low income face huge budget constraints that affect their ability to allocate adequate monies to their essential medical services (Oliver & Mossialos 2004). In this regard, income inequalities contribute to access of quality health services. What is more, the incidence of certain diseases and mortality rate among the individuals from low social class.

In this context, I always wondered about the high prevalence of pneumonia among homeless persons. In particular, I was disturbed by the case of one homeless person, Zack, whom I had become fond of while volunteering at the homeless shelter. In particular, this particular individual would come in for food supplements and leave for the streets. Due to the exposure to extreme weather elements especially cold nights, he struggled with bouts of pneumonia constantly. Of course, the individual would go to the local hospital and get the requisite dosage for treatment but he lacked medical insurance.  Of course, lack of medical insurance meant that the hospital was not in a position to admit him for further observation, which, contributed, to the constant bouts of pneumonia.

The case of Zack presents a classic example of the impact of class on access to quality medical care. Individuals such as Zack lack a constant source of income thus, cannot take out medical insurance policies. Lack of an insurance policy means that while Zack can enjoy the free outpatient services that are available at different hospitals but he cannot access in-patient services or those from a chest specialist. Obviously, Zack cannot pay for such services, which affects the quality of his life. Furthermore, the risk of mortality because of constant bouts of pneumonia increases. In fact, the incidence of respiratory diseases in the United Kingdom, for instance, continues to rise as it affects at least twenty percent of the population (Badiaga, Raoult & Brouqui 2008).

Of course, low-income household affects other factors such as access to education that contribute, albeit indirectly to the sociology of health and illness. Education provides a basis from which an individual is in a position to understand basic health information. Based on the comprehension of the health information, an individual is in a position to take the appropriate preventative measures. In a case where an individual does not access basic education and does not develop basic literacy skills, it becomes difficult for him to understand basic medical instructions (Bradby 2009). Indeed, lack of education and its impact on the ability to understand basic health instructions is a vicious cycle that affects an individual and society.

The case on Zack provides a good illustration between social class and access to basic services including health and education. Certainly, Zack does not have any source of income thus cannot afford health services. What is more, Zack lacks basic literacy skills meaning that he is not in a position to follow a drug prescription to the letter as directed by a doctor. This means that there is a risk that Zack might probably fail to finish the dosage as prescribed or fail to observe other treatment measures as explained by the physician. Failing to follow the prescription reduces the chances for recovery and increases the risk of re-occurrence in the patient.

The status of Zack as described in the case also helps to relate social class and functionalism to a certain extent. The fact that Zack is not involved in any economic activity means that he does not contribute to the overall productivity in the economy. Conversely, basic literacy skills could have enabled Zack to access a minimum wage job, support himself and most probably take out some form of health insurance. Of course, he would not be living on the street meaning that the local government would not be obliged to provide him with food and shelter. In essence, he would be an economically productive individual reducing the burden on state to provide for his basic needs. On the contrary, Zack is not an economically productive individual, which puts some strain on the state as it tries to meet his basic needs. Certainly, this result in social disequilibrium as described by functionalists thus, the functionalism approach relates to the aspect of class.

Another social factor that determines the health and illness in a society is gender. Of course, the feminist approach provides the basis from which one addresses the issue of gender in relation sociology of health and illness. First, it is important to understand that different societies have diverse norms and values. However, the patriarchal nature of many societies has perpetuated a distorted perception of women. In particular, women have always been as the “weaker” gender thus, they cannot perform important and influential roles within the society (Wilson 2005). Nonetheless, the continued emancipation women means that the perception of women as weak continues to dwindle as their influence increases within political and business circles.

Accordingly, the sociological perspective relating to health issues among women has changed from the constraints of undivided attention to reproductive health to including other illnesses that affect both men and women. Actually, other medical issues such as breast cancer have taken precedence over reproductive health issues in relation to women. Indeed, the paradigm shift is in line with change in role of women in different societies (Woodward 2004). In fact, most societies especially in the West have made commendable progress in their efforts to elevate women.

Additionally, the society understands that diseases and conditions that previously affected men can affect women as well. For instance, women working in the mining as well as oil and gas industries are susceptible to respiratory diseases just like their male counterparts. Therefore, any preventive and curative measures that were initially focused on men only should change in include women working is such industries. Without a doubt, the change in perception of women has affects the sociological perspective of women in relations to illness and health.

Other social factors linked to the sociological perspectives include age and disabilities. In particular, age refers to the specific demographic characteristics used to describe relationships between age and social trends in health and illnesses. Some diseases affect specific segments of the population making individuals in those age brackets highly susceptible to some ailments (Wilson 2005). For instance, osteoarthritis is quite common among individuals who are sixty year old and above. In particular, patients suffering from such problems complain about severe pain on their joints mainly due to the worn out cartilages. Moreover, the disease affects the mobility of older persons thus making difficult to move from one position to the other. Older persons are also highly susceptible to other disease such arthritis, cardiovascular diseases and dementia.

Given such a group of individuals is at a high risk of contracting certain diseases, it is imperative for such individuals to understand the importance of nutrition and maintaining healthy eating habits and lifestyle. What is more, the adjustments made the lifestyle results in wholesome changes in behavior. As a result, it becomes easy to associate age with behavioral patterns and consequently, social trends among a specific segment of the population.

Physical disability can also influence the behavior of individuals. Specifically, physical disability affects the normal functioning of an individual meaning that he or she needs to make considerable changes to adapt to the environment. Obviously, such individuals face a myriad of challenges during the transition and adaptation period that affects their behavior. Certainly, it is important to understand the challenges that individuals living with disabilities face in an effort to understand their behavior that includes their coping mechanisms when in a new environment.

In conclusion, it is imperative that an individual who wants to understand the sociological perspectives on health and illness to comprehend the underlying social factors. In particular, the individual should seek to understand sociological theories that act as the source of social factors that form the sociological perspectives on health and illness. Indeed, it is easy to derive social factors such class from the theory of political economy and particularly the Marxist school of thought and gender from the feminist perspective. Clearly, sociological theories provide an excellent basis for understanding factors that form the sociological perspectives of health and illness.


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Sciences London, Taylor & Francis


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