THE SOCIOLOGY OF HEALTH, ILLNESS, AND HEALTH CARE

Sociologists’ research into health, illness, and health care falls into three main cat- egories. First, some sociologists study how social forces promote health and illness and why some social groups suffer more illness than others. For example, research- ers have explored whether working conditions in U.S. factories help explain why poorer Americans get certain cancers more often than wealthier Americans. Simi- larly, sociologists can study how historical changes in social life can explain changes in patterns of illness. To understand why rates of breast cancer have increased, for example, researchers have studied the possible impact of environmental pollution, increased meat consumption, and women’s changing work lives.

Second, instead of studying broad patterns of illness, sociologists can study the experiences of people like Lara who live with illness each day—exploring, for exam- ple, how illness affects individuals’ sense of identity, relationships with family, or ideas about what causes illness. Similarly, sociologists can study the experiences of health care providers. Some sociologists have analyzed how doctors’ status and power have shifted over time, and others have investigated how power affects interactions among doctors, nurses, and other health care workers. Still others have examined interactions between health care workers and patients, asking, for example, how doctors maintain control over patients or whether doctors treat male and female patients differently.

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Third, sociologists can analyze the health care system as a whole. Sociologists have examined how health care systems have developed, compared the strengths and weaknesses of different systems, and explored how systems can be improved.

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