The social class determinants of income inequality and social cohesion

Int J Health Serv. 1999;29(4):699-732. doi: 10.2190/HNC9-BEFF-7UWL-92Y2.


The authors argue that Wilkinson's model omits important variables (social class) that make it vulnerable to biases due to model mis-specification. Furthermore, the culture of inequality hypothesis unnecessarily "psychopathologizes" the relatively deprived while omitting social determinants of disease related to production (environmental and occupational hazards) and the capacity of the relatively deprived for collective action. In addition, the hypothesis that being "disrespected" is a fundamental determinant of violence has already been refuted. Shying away from social mechanisms such as exploitation, workplace domination, or classist ideology might avoid conflict but reduce the income inequality model to a set of useful, but simple and wanting associations. Using a nonrecursive structural equation model that tests for reciprocal effects, the authors show that working-class position is negatively associated with social cohesion but positively associated with union membership. Thus, current indicators of social cohesion use middle-class standards for collective action that working-class communities are unlikely to meet. An erroneous characterization of working-class communities as noncohesive could be used to justify paternalistic or punitive social policies. These criticisms should not detract from an acknowledgment of Wilkinson's investigations as a leading empirical contribution to reviving social epidemiology at the end of the century.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Authoritarianism
  • Bias
  • Community Participation / economics*
  • Community Participation / psychology*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Labor Unions*
  • Models, Econometric*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Politics
  • Power, Psychological
  • Public Policy
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Social Class*
  • Social Identification
  • Social Justice
  • Social Values*
  • Social Welfare
  • United States