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Monetizing illness: The influence of disability assistance priming on how we evaluate the health symptoms of others


  • O'Brien, Rourke L.


For low-income families in the United States disability assistance has emerged as a critical income support program in the post-welfare reform era. This article explores how this monetization of illness—tying receipt of government assistance to a physical or mental condition—influences how individuals evaluate the severity of another individual's health symptoms. Using data collected through a nationally representative survey experiment of adults in the United States (n = 1005) in May 2013, I find that respondents who are primed to consider the existence of disability assistance are less likely to rate the symptoms described in a hypothetical vignette as severe relative to the control group. I find evidence that this effect holds for both physical (back pain) and mental (depression) conditions for adults and behavioral conditions (ADHD) in children. Moreover, respondents in the experimental group were more likely to blame the individual for her health condition and this measure was found to partially mediate the effect of the disability assistance prime. These findings have important implications for researchers, policymakers and medical practitioners by illustrating how premising state assistance on a health condition may in turn shape how individuals evaluate the health symptoms of others.

Suggested Citation

  • O'Brien, Rourke L., 2015. "Monetizing illness: The influence of disability assistance priming on how we evaluate the health symptoms of others," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 31-35.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:128:y:2015:i:c:p:31-35
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.01.001

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Arie Kapteyn & James P. Smith & Arthur van Soest, 2007. "Vignettes and Self-Reports of Work Disability in the United States and the Netherlands," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 461-473, March.
    2. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2001. "Group Loyalty and the Taste for Redistribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 500-528, June.
    3. Willen, Sarah S., 2012. "How is health-related “deservingness” reckoned? Perspectives from unauthorized im/migrants in Tel Aviv," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(6), pages 812-821.
    4. Datta Gupta, Nabanita & Kristensen, Nicolai & Pozzoli, Dario, 2010. "External validation of the use of vignettes in cross-country health studies," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 854-865, July.
    5. Hansen, Helena & Bourgois, Philippe & Drucker, Ernest, 2014. "Pathologizing poverty: New forms of diagnosis, disability, and structural stigma under welfare reform," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 76-83.
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    1. repec:eee:socmed:v:181:y:2017:i:c:p:66-73 is not listed on IDEAS


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