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Psychosocial and neo-material dimensions of SES and health revisited: Predictors of self-rated health in a Canadian national survey


  • Dunn, James R.
  • Veenstra, Gerry
  • Ross, Nancy


This study addresses questions concerning psychosocial processes of relative comparison in the production of socio-economic inequalities in health. Specifically, the importance for health of perceptions of status, different 'reference groups' and 'reference points' in such comparisons is problematized and investigated empirically. Using data from a cross-sectional telephone survey of the Canadian population in 2000 (n=1331), the paper investigates relationships between self-rated health status (SRHS) and: (1) 'actual' absolute socio-economic standing, (2) perceived relative socio-economic standing (relative to other Canadians and to Canadians of the previous generation), and (3) 'actual' relative socio-economic standing (relative to others in respondents' province of residence and neighbourhood of residence). Measures of actual absolute socio-economic status (SES) (household income, personal income and education) were strongly related to SRHS. Results for perceived relative SES were mixed. Perceived SES relative to all Canadians was a strong predictor of SRHS before and after controlling for age and gender while perceived SES relative to the previous generation was unrelated to SRHS. Actual relative income was strongly related to SRHS for all reference points (10th, 50th and 90th percentiles) in both reference groups analysed (neighbourhoods and provinces). Within neighbourhoods, however, comparisons with those at the top of the income ladder appeared to be somewhat more salient for SRHS than were comparisons to other levels. We conclude that there is some evidence of the importance of both psychosocial and neo-material aspects of SES for Canadians' self-rated health, but that further empirical research is needed that accounts for the numerous ways in which psychosocial processes of relative social comparison may take place.

Suggested Citation

  • Dunn, James R. & Veenstra, Gerry & Ross, Nancy, 2006. "Psychosocial and neo-material dimensions of SES and health revisited: Predictors of self-rated health in a Canadian national survey," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(6), pages 1465-1473, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:62:y:2006:i:6:p:1465-1473

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Cheng, Y. H. & Chi, I. & Boey, K. W. & Ko, L. S. F. & Chou, K. L., 2002. "Self-rated economic condition and the health of elderly persons in Hong Kong," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 55(8), pages 1415-1424, October.
    2. Lynch, John, 2000. "Income inequality and health: expanding the debate," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 51(7), pages 1001-1005, October.
    3. Wilkinson, Richard G., 2000. "Deeper than "neoliberalism". A reply to David Coburn," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 51(7), pages 997-1000, October.
    4. Wildman, John, 2003. "Income related inequalities in mental health in Great Britain: analysing the causes of health inequality over time," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 295-312, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kolarcik, Peter & Geckova, Andrea Madarasova & Orosova, Olga & van Dijk, Jitse P. & Reijneveld, Sijmen A., 2009. "To what extent does socioeconomic status explain differences in health between Roma and non-Roma adolescents in Slovakia?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(7), pages 1279-1284, April.
    2. Florence Jusot & Michel Grignon & Paul Dourgnon, 2007. "Psychosocial resources and social health inequalities in France: Exploratory findings from a general population survey," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 189, McMaster University.
    3. Irina, Mozhaeva, 2009. "Multidimensional health modeling: Association between socioeconomic and psychosocial factors and health in Latvia," MPRA Paper 24626, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 01 Aug 2010.
    4. Chunping Han, 2014. "Health Implications of Socioeconomic Characteristics, Subjective Social Status, and Perceptions of Inequality: An Empirical Study of China," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 119(2), pages 495-514, November.
    5. Garbarski, Dana, 2010. "Perceived social position and health: Is there a reciprocal relationship?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(5), pages 692-699, March.
    6. Präg, Patrick & Mills, Melinda C. & Wittek, Rafael, 2016. "Subjective socioeconomic status and health in cross-national comparison," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 149(C), pages 84-92.
    7. Cox, Matthew & Boyle, Paul J. & Davey, Peter G. & Feng, Zhiqiang & Morris, Andrew D., 2007. "Locality deprivation and Type 2 diabetes incidence: A local test of relative inequalities," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(9), pages 1953-1964, November.
    8. Wolff, Lisa S. & Subramanian, S.V. & Acevedo-Garcia, Dolores & Weber, Deanne & Kawachi, Ichiro, 2010. "Compared to whom? Subjective social status, self-rated health, and referent group sensitivity in a diverse US sample," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(12), pages 2019-2028, June.
    9. Subramanyam, Malavika & Kawachi, Ichiro & Berkman, Lisa & Subramanian, S.V., 2009. "Relative deprivation in income and self-rated health in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 327-334, August.
    10. repec:dau:papers:123456789/7007 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Wilkinson, Richard G. & Pickett, Kate E., 2007. "The problems of relative deprivation: Why some societies do better than others," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(9), pages 1965-1978, November.


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