Women's body dissatisfaction, social class, and social mobility

Soc Sci Med. 2004 May;58(9):1575-84. doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(03)00209-0.


Several studies indicate that socially advantaged women are more dissatisfied with their bodies than socially disadvantaged women. These findings have been based on women's current social class, and no attention has been paid to the social class of her family of origin or to intergenerational social mobility. In the present research 912 54-year-old women from a prospective birth cohort study provided self-report data on current body esteem (appearance and weight dimensions). Childhood and adult social class (manual versus non-manual) were defined based on father's occupation and own or partner's occupation, respectively. This information and the highest educational qualifications recorded by age 26 were gathered prospectively. Indicators of current and adolescent body mass index (BMI) were computed from height and weight values collected at ages 15 (or 11) and 53-54 years. Multiple regression was used to examine the relationship between midlife body esteem and childhood social class, adult social class, educational qualifications, and social mobility, unadjusted and adjusted for BMI. Women from the non-manual classes as adults were more dissatisfied with their weight than women from the manual classes as adults, for a given BMI. Adjusting for BMI, downwardly mobile women were more satisfied with their appearance than stable non-manual women. Adjusting for BMI, higher educational qualifications were associated with more dissatisfaction with weight and with appearance, and education appears to be more important than occupationally defined social class in explaining body dissatisfaction. A clearer understanding of the relationship between socio-economic position and body dissatisfaction demands that the following distinctions are made: weight versus appearance satisfaction, education versus occupation, and current social class versus intergenerational social mobility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Image*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupations / classification
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Class*
  • Social Mobility
  • United Kingdom
  • Women / psychology*