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Family life and health in adolescence: A role for culture in the health inequalities debate


  • Sweeting, Helen
  • West, Patrick


Until recently, the role of the family in the 'health inequalities' debate has been largely ignored. Using data from the youngest cohort in the West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study, three dimensions of family life (family structure, culture and conflict) are examined in respect of their association both with health when respondents were aged 15 and 18, and with labour market position at 18. Despite a strong association between family structure and material deprivation, those from intact, reconstituted and single parent families were largely undifferentiated in terms of health. By contrast, aspects of family functioning, particularly a poorer relationship and conflict with parent(s), were independently associated with lower self-esteem, poorer psychological well-being and (among females) more physical symptoms at both ages. In addition, both family culture and conflict were associated with labour market position over and above the effects of material deprivation, with those from family centred and lower conflict homes having a greater likelihood of being in tertiary education. While the relationships between the family and psychological well-being and, to a lesser extent, physical symptoms appeared to be mediated by self-esteem, those between the family and labour market position did not. These findings suggest that in adolescence family life may have more direct effects on health than material factors and, through social mobility, may be indirectly linked to health inequalities in adulthood. These family processes, we argue, are expressions of cultural influences, the scope of which to date has been too narrowly focused on health behaviours.

Suggested Citation

  • Sweeting, Helen & West, Patrick, 1995. "Family life and health in adolescence: A role for culture in the health inequalities debate," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 40(2), pages 163-175, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:40:y:1995:i:2:p:163-175

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Michelle Kelly-Irving & Laurence Mabile & Pascale Grosclaude & Thierry Lang & Cyrille Delpierre, 2013. "The embodiment of adverse childhood experiences and cancer development: potential biological mechanisms and pathways across the life course," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 58(1), pages 3-11, February.
    2. Brolin Låftman, Sara & Östberg, Viveca, 2006. "The pros and cons of social relations: An analysis of adolescents' health complaints," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 611-623, August.
    3. Buchanan, Ann & Ten Brinke, JoAnn, 1998. "Measuring outcomes for children: Early parenting experiences, conflict, maladjustment, and depression in adulthood," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 251-278, March.
    4. Elovainio, Marko & Kivimäki, Mika & Ek, Ellen & Vahtera, Jussi & Honkonen, Teija & Taanila, Anja & Veijola, Juha & Järvelin, Marjo-Riitta, 2007. "The effect of pre-employment factors on job control, job strain and psychological distress: A 31-year longitudinal study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 187-199, July.
    5. Pugno, Maurizio, 2013. "Scitovsky and the income-happiness paradox," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 1-10.
    6. Ek, Ellen & Koiranen, Markku & Raatikka, Veli-Pekka & Järvelin, Marjo-Riitta & Taanila, Anja, 2008. "Psychosocial factors as mediators between migration and subjective well-being among young Finnish adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(7), pages 1545-1556, April.
    7. Seung Shin & Hyung-tak Lim & Hyun-young Park & Sang Park & Han-suk Kim, 2012. "The associations of parental under-education and unemployment on the risk of preterm birth: 2003 Korean National Birth Registration database," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 57(2), pages 253-260, April.
    8. Bartley, Mel & Head, Jenny & Stansfeld, Stephen, 2007. "Is attachment style a source of resilience against health inequalities at work?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(4), pages 765-775, February.
    9. Buchanan, Ann & Flouri, Eirini, 2001. "`Recovery' after age 7 from `externalising' behaviour problems: the role of risk and protective clusters," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(12), pages 899-914, December.


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