Linking socio-economic status with health in the UK

Linking socio-economic status with health in the UK

Socioeconomic or SES refers to an individual’s level of income, education, occupation or wealth within society. Health inequalities are a crucial concern has been a key focus point in parliament in the United Kingdom. The most recent assessment; The Marmot review (2010) focused on health inequality in the UK, this study concluded that individuals with a more notable socioeconomic status are better positioned for opportunities due to accessibility. Additionally, in England, people living in better neighborhoods will on average die seven years later than those in poorer neighborhoods. These health differences aren’t only linked to life expectancy; mental health, physical health and infant mortality are also affected.

Whilst investigating the link between socioeconomic inequalities and health within the UK Graham (2004) found that socioeconomic status greatly influenced health indirectly, as it influenced a set of factors such as housing, working conditions and social and community networks such as family relationships. Adults and children from poorer backgrounds are more subjected to live in areas where they are exposed to health damaging behaviors and environments.

This blog will give overviews of certain models that explain socio-economic issue with health.


Rainbow model:

Dahlgreen & Whitehead (1991) devised a ‘rainbow model’ which mapped a link between a person, their health and their environment. The individual is placed at the center and surrounding them are several factors which can negatively or positively affect their health. The first influence is their individual lifestyle i.e. choosing to smoke or take drugs. Followed by social and community networks. Finally, the final layer refers to structural factors that include education, working environment, living and working conditions, housing and unemployment. The Model put forward a view that those from affluent backgrounds are less likely to be negatively affected by the layers described in the social model of health unless a major event i.e. civil war was to occur. However, those from poorer backgrounds are understood to face disadvantages throughout life.

Black Report:

The black report (1980), published by the department of health outlined the first theoretical framework to explain the social inequalities in health. The Black report (1980) highlighted four sociological explanations for the disparity in health and wellbeing; artefact, social selection, material or structural and cultural or behaviour.

The black report (1980) is the belief that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to engage in health damaging behaviours.


Stress vulnerability model:

Further support comes from the stress vulnerability model (1997) which suggests that factors such as low incomes can result in stress. This theory is supported by Turner et al (1997) who argued that a buildup stress may lead to coping behaviours such as smoking, overeating or drug and alcohol consumption. Similarly, Dowd (2007) stated that coping behaviours such as self-medication may be another way in managing stress. In pregnant women, Dowd (1997) also suggested that coping behaviours not only affect their health but the unborn baby also.

According to Klabbers et al (2009) low income leads an overwhelming feeling stress, this results in psychological stressors and subsequently to poor health. Aittomaki (2010) argued distress may be a result of individuals’ constant comparisons and what can be described as a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.


The importance of understanding these models is that it can help us all work with the patients we see and empathise with the issues they may be facing. Also for clients it can help with understanding some of the issues they maybe facing with their health. If any questions, please feel free to contact the team for further issues related to socio-economic status and health.


By Caasha Abdhirahaman

BSc, MSc, Assistant Psychologist & PWP.



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