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



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12.5 End-of-Chapter Material

SUMMARY


  1. Capitalism and socialism are the two primary types of economic systems in the world today. Capitalism involves private ownership, the pursuit of profit, and competition for profit, while socialism involves the collective ownership of goods and resources and efforts for the common good. Several nations practice democratic socialism, which is meant to combine the best of capitalism and socialism.

  2. According to functionalism, the economy makes society possible by providing essential goods and services, while work gives people income and self-fulfillment. According to conflict theory, work is alienating, and the economic elite uses its control of the economy to maintain their elite position. Symbolic interactionism focuses on social interaction in the workplace and on how they perceive the work they do.

  3. Problems in work and the economy include the following: (a) the loss of jobs and wages; (b) the decline of labor unions; (c) unemployment; (d) corporate misbehavior; (e) rising economic inequality; (f) tax evasion; and (g) workplace crime.

  4. Social reforms based on sound social science research are needed to improve work and the economy. Two important reforms would involve stricter enforcement of laws against racial discrimination in hiring and employment and of penalties for corporate crime.



USING WHAT YOU KNOW


You graduated from college a year ago and have begun working in sales for an electronics company. You’ve become good friends with a coworker, with whom you often “hang out” at bars and the occasional party. However, one day you notice this coworker pocketing a smartphone, and you realize that a theft is occurring. What, if anything, do you do? Explain your answer.

WHAT YOU CAN DO


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

  1. Start or join a group that tries to educate the public about economic inequality.

  2. Assist a local labor union in its efforts to have safer workplaces.


Chapter 13


Health and Health Care

Social Problems in the News


“More Columbus Kids Living in Poverty,” the headline said. New data from the Ohio Department of Education showed that three-fourths of schoolchildren in Columbus, Ohio, live in poverty or near poverty and qualify for federally subsidized school lunch. Ten years earlier, only about 58 percent of Columbus children qualified. According to the news report, “Childhood poverty directly impacts children’s health. Children living in poverty are less likely to receive needed medical care, more likely to have health problems such as asthma, more likely to be overweight, among other health problems.”

Source: Lietz, 2012 [1]

This news story reminds us that social class is linked to health and illness, and it illustrates just one of the many ways in which health and health care are urgent problems in our society. Accordingly, this chapter examines these problems. Its discussion is based on the common sociological view that health and illness are not just medical problems but social problems.

Unlike physicians, sociologists and other public health scholars do not try to understand why any one person becomes ill. Instead, they typically examine rates of illness to explain why people from certain social backgrounds are more likely than those from others to become sick. Here, as we will see, our social backgrounds—our social class, race and ethnicity, and gender—make a critical difference.

The fact that our social backgrounds affect our health may be difficult for many of us to accept. We all know someone who has died from a serious illness or currently suffers from one. There is always a medical cause of this person’s illness, and physicians do their best to try to cure it and prevent it from recurring. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes they fail. Whether someone suffers a serious illness is often simply a matter of bad luck or bad genes: We can do everything right and still become ill. In saying that our social backgrounds affect our health, sociologists do not deny any of these possibilities. They simply remind us that our social backgrounds also play an important role (Cockerham, 2012). [2]


[1] Lietz, J. (2012, January 17). More Columbus kids living in poverty. Examiner.com. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/children-s-health-in-columbus/more-columbus-kids-living-poverty.

[2] Cockerham, W. C. (2012). Medical sociology (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


13.1 Sociological Perspectives on Health and Health Care

LEARNING OBJECTIVE


  1. List the assumptions of the functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist perspectives on health and medicine.

Before discussing these perspectives, we must first define three key concepts—health, medicine, and health care—that lie at the heart of their explanations and of this chapter’s discussion. Health refers to the extent of a person’s physical, mental, and social well-being. As this definition suggests, health is a multidimensional concept. Although the three dimensions of health just listed often affect each other, it is possible for someone to be in good physical health and poor mental health, or vice versa. Medicine refers to the social institution that seeks to prevent, diagnose, and treat illness and to promote health in its various dimensions. This social institution in the United States is vast, to put it mildly, and involves more than 11 million people (physicians, nurses, dentists, therapists, medical records technicians, and many other occupations). Finally, health care refers to the provision of medical services to prevent, diagnose, and treat health problems.

With these definitions in mind, we now turn to sociological explanations of health and health care. As usual, the major sociological perspectives that we have discussed throughout this book offer different types of explanations, but together they provide us with a more comprehensive understanding than any one approach can do by itself. Table 13.1 "Theory Snapshot" summarizes what they say.

Table 13.1 Theory Snapshot

Theoretical perspective

Major assumptions

Functionalism

Good health and effective medical care are essential for the smooth functioning of society. Patients must perform the “sick role” in order to be perceived as legitimately ill and to be exempt from their normal obligations. The physician-patient relationship is hierarchical: The physician provides instructions, and the patient needs to follow them.

Conflict theory

Social inequality characterizes the quality of health and the quality of health care. People from disadvantaged social backgrounds are more likely to become ill and to receive inadequate health care. Partly to increase their incomes, physicians have tried to control the practice of medicine and to define social problems as medical problems.

Symbolic interactionism

Health and illness are social constructions: Physical and mental conditions have little or no objective reality but instead are considered healthy or ill conditions only if they are defined as such by a society. Physicians “manage the situation” to display their authority and medical knowledge.


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