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Women's body dissatisfaction, social class, and social mobility


  • McLaren, Lindsay
  • Kuh, Diana


Several studies indicate that socially advantaged women are more dissatisfied with their bodies than socially disadvantaged women. These findings have been based on women's current social class, and no attention has been paid to the social class of her family of origin or to intergenerational social mobility. In the present research 912 54-year-old women from a prospective birth cohort study provided self-report data on current body esteem (appearance and weight dimensions). Childhood and adult social class (manual versus non-manual) were defined based on father's occupation and own or partner's occupation, respectively. This information and the highest educational qualifications recorded by age 26 were gathered prospectively. Indicators of current and adolescent body mass index (BMI) were computed from height and weight values collected at ages 15 (or 11) and 53-54 years. Multiple regression was used to examine the relationship between midlife body esteem and childhood social class, adult social class, educational qualifications, and social mobility, unadjusted and adjusted for BMI. Women from the non-manual classes as adults were more dissatisfied with their weight than women from the manual classes as adults, for a given BMI. Adjusting for BMI, downwardly mobile women were more satisfied with their appearance than stable non-manual women. Adjusting for BMI, higher educational qualifications were associated with more dissatisfaction with weight and with appearance, and education appears to be more important than occupationally defined social class in explaining body dissatisfaction. A clearer understanding of the relationship between socio-economic position and body dissatisfaction demands that the following distinctions are made: weight versus appearance satisfaction, education versus occupation, and current social class versus intergenerational social mobility.

Suggested Citation

  • McLaren, Lindsay & Kuh, Diana, 2004. "Women's body dissatisfaction, social class, and social mobility," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(9), pages 1575-1584, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:58:y:2004:i:9:p:1575-1584

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    Cited by:

    1. Johnston, D.W. & Lordan, G., 2012. "My body is fat and my wallet is thin: The link between weight perceptions, weight control and income," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 12/27, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
    2. Lindsay McLaren & M. Auld & Jenny Godley & David Still & Lise Gauvin, 2010. "Examining the association between socioeconomic position and body mass index in 1978 and 2005 among Canadian working-age women and men," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 55(3), pages 193-200, June.
    3. Bonnefond, Céline & Clément, Matthieu, 2014. "Social class and body weight among Chinese urban adults: The role of the middle classes in the nutrition transition," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 22-29.
    4. Johnston, David W. & Lordan, Grace, 2014. "Weight perceptions, weight control and income: An analysis using British data," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 12(C), pages 132-139.


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