Sociology of Health and Illness

The Interaction Between Society and Health

Mother holding her infant as it get an injection from a doctor

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The sociology of health and illness studies the interaction between society and health. In particular, sociologists examine how social life impacts morbidity and mortality rates and how morbidity and mortality rates impact society. This discipline also looks at health and illness in relation to social institutions such as the family, work, school, and religion as well as the causes of disease and illness, reasons for seeking particular types of care, and patient compliance and noncompliance.

Health, or lack of health, was once merely attributed to biological or natural conditions. Sociologists have demonstrated that the spread of diseases is heavily influenced by the socioeconomic status of individuals, ethnic traditions or beliefs, and other cultural factors. Where medical research might gather statistics on a disease, a sociological perspective of an illness would provide insight on what external factors caused the demographics who contracted the disease to become ill.

The sociology of health and illness requires a global approach of analysis because the influence of societal factors varies throughout the world. Diseases are examined and compared based on the traditional medicine, economics, religion, and culture that is specific to each region. For example, HIV/AIDS serves as a common basis of comparison among regions. While it is extremely problematic in certain areas, in others it has affected a relatively small percentage of the population. Sociological factors can help to explain why these discrepancies exist.

There are obvious differences in patterns of health and illness across societies, over time, and within particular society types. There has historically been a long-term decline in mortality within industrialized societies, and on average, life-expectancies are considerably higher in developed, rather than developing or undeveloped, societies. Patterns of global change in health care systems make it more imperative than ever to research and comprehend the sociology of health and illness. Continuous changes in the economy, therapy, technology, and insurance can affect the way individual communities view and respond to the medical care available. These rapid fluctuations cause the issue of health and illness within social life to be very dynamic in the definition. Advancing information is vital because as patterns evolve, the study of the sociology of health and illness constantly needs to be updated.

The sociology of health and illness is not to be confused with medical sociology, which focuses on medical institutions such as hospitals, clinics, and physician offices as well as the interactions among physicians.


White, K. An Introduction to the Sociology of Health and Illness. SAGE Publishing, 2002.

Conrad, P. The Sociology of Health and Illness: Critical Perspectives. Macmillan Publishers, 2008.

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Crossman, Ashley. "Sociology of Health and Illness." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Crossman, Ashley. (2020, August 27). Sociology of Health and Illness. Retrieved from Crossman, Ashley. "Sociology of Health and Illness." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 4, 2023).