Social inequality, population health, and housing: a study of two Vancouver neighborhoods
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An emerging 'population health' framework for understanding inequalities in health identifies the structure of social relations as a crucial factor in shaping human health and well-being. However, there remain many unanswered questions about the mechanisms through which social relations might shape the health status of individuals and populations. Housing plays a central role in routinized, everyday life and is fundamentally bound up in one's sense of control over life circumstances. Housing and property markets are significant in the distribution of wealth and are an important arena for the exercise of power relations. Housing circumstance is crucial in the production and reproduction of social identity and social status. Yet little has been written on the influence of inequalities generated by housing and housing markets on the differential distribution of health status. This paper reports the findings of an empirical study of relationships between socioeconomic status, material and meaningful dimensions of housing and home, and health status. Our objective is to investigate ways in which material and meaningful factors related to housing, in conjunction with other dimensions of the social environment, could operate to produce systematic inequalities in health status across social strata. The data for this study were obtained through a mailed survey of residents in the Mount Pleasant (n = 322) and Sunset (n = 206) neighborhoods of Vancouver, Canada. They suggest that, in concert with commonly used measures of socioeconomic status, both material and meaningful dimensions of housing and home are associated with health status in a direction consistent with expectations following from our analytical model.
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