This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface

Download 4.42 Mb.
Size4.42 Mb.
1   ...   97   98   99   100   101   102   103   104   ...   137

13.6 End-of-Chapter Material


  1. A sociological approach emphasizes the relationship between health, medicine, and society. In particular, our social backgrounds influence our health and access to health care.

  2. Sociological perspectives on health and illness fall into the functional, conflict, and interactionist approaches encountered in previous chapters. The functional view emphasizes the importance of health for a society’s stability and the roles that people play when they are sick. The conflict view stresses inequality in the quality of health and health-care delivery and efforts by physicians to monopolize the practice of medicine to increase their profits. According to the interactionist view, health and illness are social constructions subject to people’s and society’s interpretations. The interactionist view also studies how medical professionals and patients interact and the way professionals manage understandings of such interaction.

  3. Health and the quality of health care differ widely around the world and reflect global inequality. The earth’s poorest nations have extremely high rates of infant mortality and life-threatening diseases such as AIDS and very low life expectancy.

  4. The United States lags behind most other industrial nations in important health indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy. Moreover, serious disparities exist within the United States in the social distribution of health, as evidenced by the study of social epidemiology.

  5. Social class, race and ethnicity, and gender all affect the quality of health. The health of poor people is worse than that of the nonpoor. African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans all fare worse than whites on many health indicators, in large part because of their poverty and history of discrimination. Women fare worse than men on several heath indicators, but men have lower life expectancies because of their higher rates of certain life-threatening illnesses.

  6. Health care in the United States today faces several problems. The United States is alone among the world’s industrial nations in not offering universal national health insurance; its absence is thought to help account for the country’s low ranking in the industrial world on major health indicators. Managed care has also come under criticism for restricting coverage of important medical procedures and prescription medicines. Racial and gender bias in health care is another problem that has adverse effects on the nation’s health. Other quality-of-care problems include tired physicians, a lack of emergency room physicians, and numerous mistakes made in hospitals.


You have been working for two months as a volunteer in a hospital in or near your hometown. Your duties include bringing food to patients, talking with them, and otherwise helping them to feel comfortable. However, you have noticed that many of the physicians and nurses you have seen coming into patients’ rooms do not wash their hands, and you doubt that they washed their hands immediately before entering the rooms. What, if anything, do you do? Explain your answer.


To help deal with the health and health-care problems discussed in this chapter, you may wish to do any of the following:

  1. Volunteer at a local hospital or health clinic.

  2. Start a group on your campus to advocate for national health insurance, or join an existing group in the nearby community.

  3. Volunteer for a local agency that tries to address the health-care needs of low-income children and their families.

Chapter 14

Urban and Rural Problems

Social Problems in the News

“Downtown Decay Poses Problem for Community,” the headline said. The downtown district of Charleston, South Carolina, has some of the most beautiful older homes in the country, but it also has its share of dilapidated housing. According to the news article, “There are two distinct sides to downtown Charleston, the postcard perfect homes and the crumbling, rundown houses. Dilapidated buildings near the crosstown aren’t just eyesores, they’re becoming safety hazards.” A neighborhood activist criticized city officials for ignoring the problem of rundown, dangerous houses. “It’s out of sight, out of mind,” he said. Ignoring this problem “wouldn’t happen in the tourist areas,” he added, “but why should it happen in the community where people live and work every day?”

Source: Davenport, 2012. [1]

America’s cities are centers of culture, innovation, fine dining, world-class medical research, high finance, and so many other hallmarks. Yet, as this news story from Charleston reminds us, our cities also have dilapidated housing and many other problems. So do the nation’s rural areas. This chapter examines urban and rural problems in the United States.

We will see that many of these problems reflect those that earlier chapters discussed. But we will also see that some problems are worse in cities precisely because they are cities (and therefore are crowded with traffic and many buildings and people). And we'll see that some problems are worse in rural areas precisely because they are rural (and therefore are isolated with long distances to travel). These defining features of cities and rural areas, respectively, should be kept in mind as we examine the problems occurring in these two important settings for American life.
[1] Davenport, M. (2012, January 11). Downtown decay poses problem for community.WCSC TV. Retrieved from

14.1 A Brief History of Urbanization


  1. Discuss the health problems that resulted when cities developed.

  2. Explain why urbanization grew in the United States during the nineteenth century.

  3. List the problems poor nations face as their cities grow even larger.

One of the most significant changes over the centuries has been urbanization, or the shift from rural areas to large cities. Urbanization has had important consequences for many aspects of social, political, and economic life (Kleniewski & Thomas, 2011). [1]

The earliest cities developed in ancient times after the rise of horticultural and pastoral societies made it possible for people to stay in one place instead of having to move around to find food. Because ancient cities had no sanitation facilities, people typically left their garbage and human waste in the city streets or just outside the city wall (which most cities had for protection from possible enemies). This poor sanitation led to rampant disease and high death rates. Some cities eventually developed better sanitation procedures, including, in Rome, a sewer system. Still, the world remained largely rural until the industrialization of the nineteenth century. We return to industrialization shortly.

During the American colonial period, cities along the eastern seaboard were the centers of commerce and politics. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were the three largest cities in population size. Yet they were tiny in comparison to their size today. In 1790, the year after George Washington became the first president of the new nation, New York’s population was only 33,131; Philadelphia’s was 28,522; and Boston’s was 18,230 (Gibson, 1998). [2] Today, of course, cities of this size are called small towns. New York’s population is vastly higher, at about 8.2 million; Philadelphia’s is 1.5 million; and Boston’s is 618, 000.

US cities became more numerous and much larger during the nineteenth century because of two trends. The first was immigration, as waves of immigrants from Ireland and then Italy and other nations began coming to the United States during the 1820s. The second was industrialization, as people moved to live near factories and other sites of industrial production. These two trends were momentous: People crowded together as never before, and they crowded into living conditions that were often squalid. Lack of sanitation continued to cause rampant disease, and death rates from cholera, typhoid, and other illnesses were high.

Muckraker Lincoln Steffens wrote a classic work, The Shame of the Cities, that criticized the municipal corruption characterizing many US cities at the turn of the twentieth century.

Source: “Lincoln Steffens,”Wikipedia, Last modified August 19, 2009,

Crime also became a significant problem, as did riots and other mob violence beginning in the 1830s. This type of mass violence was so common that the 1830s have been called the “turbulent era” (Feldberg, 1980). [3] Most of this mass violence was committed by native-born whites against African Americans, Catholics, and immigrants. Native whites resented their presence and were deeply prejudiced against them. During the three decades beginning in 1830, almost three-fourths of US cities with populations above 20,000 had at least one riot. This wave of mass violence in the nation’s cities led Abraham Lincoln to lament, “Accounts of outrages committed by mobs form the everyday news of the times…Whatever their causes be, it is common to the whole country” (Barkan & Snowden, 2008, p. 34). [4]

American cities grew even more rapidly after the Civil War as both industrialization and immigration continued. By the early years of the twentieth century, US cities on the East Coast were almost unimaginably crowded, and their living conditions continued to be wretched for many of their residents. Their city governments, police forces, and business worlds were also notoriously corrupt. In 1904, Lincoln Steffens, a renowned “muckraking” journalist, published his classic work, The Shame of the Cities (Steffens, 1904), [5] which was a collection of six articles he had written for McClure’s Magazine. In this book, Steffens used biting prose to attack the municipal corruption of the times in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and other cities. In the original articles that compose the book, he named names: He listed by name people who gave and received bribes and those who were corrupt in other ways. A decade earlier, another muckraker, Jacob Riis, had published How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (Riis, 1890), [6] a book of searing photographs of poverty in the largest US city. The books by Steffens and Riis remain as vivid reminders of what cities were like a century ago, and perhaps are still like today in some respects.

As Americans moved west after the Civil War and during the twentieth century, western cities appeared almost overnight and expanded the pace of urbanization. Continued industrialization, immigration, and general population growth further increased the number and size of US cities. Internal migration had a similar impact, as waves of African Americans moved from the South to Chicago and other northern cities.

Figure 14.1 Populations of Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, 1790–2010

Note: New York annexed Brooklyn in 1898; therefore, New York’s population beginning in 1900 includes Brooklyn’s population.

Sources: Gibson, C. (1998). Population of the 100 largest cities and other urban places in the United States: 1790–1990. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau; US Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2012. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Retrieved from

depicts the growth of Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles from 1790 to 2010. Chicago and Los Angeles first appear in the graph when they began to rank in the largest one hundred cities.

Note that the populations of New York and Chicago show some decline after 1950. This decline reflects two other trends affecting cities in the past half-century: (1) the movement of people from cities to suburbs; and (2) the movement of Americans from northern cities to southern and southwestern cities. Reflecting this second trend, and also reflecting increases in immigration from Mexico and Asia, southern and southwestern cities have grown rapidly during the past few decades. For example, during the 1970–2010 period, the populations of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Phoenix, Arizona, more than doubled, while the populations of Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan, both fell by about half (see ).

Figure 14.2 Population Change from 1970 to 2010 for Selected Cities

Source: US Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2012. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Retrieved from

This trend in urbanization aside, the fact remains that the United States has become much more urbanized since its formation. Today, more than three-fourths of the US population lives in an urban area (defined generally as an incorporated territory with a population of at least 2,500), and less than one-fourth lives in a rural area. As shows, the degree of urbanization rose steadily through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries before slowing down by the end of the last century.

Figure 14.3 Urbanization in the United States (Percentage Living in Urban Areas)


Directory: site -> textbooks
textbooks -> This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License
textbooks -> Preface for Teachers
textbooks -> This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface
textbooks -> Chapter 1 Introduction to Law and Legal Systems
textbooks -> This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License
textbooks -> This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a
textbooks -> This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Organization

Share with your friends:
1   ...   97   98   99   100   101   102   103   104   ...   137

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page