Social status and living with a chronic illness: an exploration of assessment and meaning attributed to work and employment

Chronic Illn. 2014 Dec;10(4):273-90. doi: 10.1177/1742395314521641. Epub 2014 Jan 31.


Background: Traditional measures of social status are predicated on position in the labour market. There has been less attention directed to the meanings of social position for people with a long-term condition whose relationship to employment is precarious. Previous research has demonstrated that the MacArthur scale is capable of capturing contextualised aspects of social status, which makes it a useful tool for exploring changes in meaning.

Aims: The paper explores the meanings and experiences of social status of people living with a long-term condition with particular reference to employment status.

Methods: A sample of 300 participants was drawn from diabetes and chronic heart disease registers of General Practices in North West England. A cross-sectional survey with nested qualitative interviews was used in collecting and analysing the data.

Findings: Having financial independence and participating in valued activities are more important for people with chronic illness than power and status mediated through the labour market. Income and the lack and loss of employment were given a central role in respondents' narratives reflecting the absence of acceptable alternative routes through which social status for those with a long-term condition can realistically be rebuilt outside of participation in the labour market.

Conclusion: Social participation, where people with chronic illness feel valued and of tangible utility to other people, might offer some opportunities for rebuilding social status outside the labour market. Chronic illness management interventions need to focus on improving people's engagement with such activities.

Keywords: Health inequalities; capabilities; long-term conditions; social networks; social status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus / psychology
  • Employment / psychology*
  • England
  • Female
  • Heart Diseases / psychology
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Male
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Social Class
  • Surveys and Questionnaires