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Chronic stress and the social patterning of women's health in Canada


  • McDonough, Peggy
  • Walters, Vivienne
  • Strohschein, Lisa


Existing research on the social patterning of women's health draws attention to the significance of social roles and socioeconomic position. Although we know a great deal about health differences according to the occupancy of these positions, we know a lot less about why such patterns exist. This paper addresses this gap by examining the pathways through which social structure is linked to health using data from a 1994 Canadian national probability sample of women, aged 25-64 years. We begin by charting differences in women's self-rated ill-health, distress, and reports of long-standing health conditions by socioeconomic position and social role occupation. We then assess the extent to which these patterns can be understood in relation to the chronic stress arising from these social locations. Socioeconomic position, assessed by housing tenure, education, and household income, was positively related to health. Employment enhanced women's health, as did being currently married and a mother living with children. The ongoing stressors that distinguish the experiences of various structural locations accounted for some of the health effects of social structure, particularly for socioeconomic position. However, chronic stress was largely irrelevant to the pathways linking social roles to health. In fact, employed women and parents living with children enjoyed better health despite their greater stress.

Suggested Citation

  • McDonough, Peggy & Walters, Vivienne & Strohschein, Lisa, 2002. "Chronic stress and the social patterning of women's health in Canada," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 54(5), pages 767-782, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:54:y:2002:i:5:p:767-782

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    Cited by:

    1. McMunn, Anne & Bartley, Mel & Kuh, Diana, 2006. "Women's health in mid-life: Life course social roles and agency as quality," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(6), pages 1561-1572, September.
    2. Vibeke Koushede & Ola Ekholm & Bjørn Holstein & Anette Andersen & Ebba Hansen, 2011. "Stress and use of over-the-counter analgesics: prevalence and association among Danish 25 to 44-year-olds from 1994 to 2005," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 56(1), pages 81-87, February.
    3. Chen, Duan-Rung & Chang, Ly-Yun & Yang, Meng-Li, 2008. "Gender-specific responses to social determinants associated with self-perceived health in Taiwan: A multilevel approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(10), pages 1630-1640, November.


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