Integrating fundamental cause theory and Bourdieu to explain pathways between socioeconomic status and health: the case of health insurance denials for genetic testing

Sociol Health Illn. 2021 Jan;43(1):133-148. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.13195. Epub 2020 Oct 6.


Fundamental cause theory (FCT) is among the most widely recognised and accepted social science frameworks used to examine the processes driving health inequalities. Despite the wide influence of the theory, it remains largely underutilised in practical and applied research on health disparities. This paper proposes that Pierre Bourdieu's theories of capital and symbolic power can be integrated with FCT to address limitations in the latter theory, making it more useful in health disparities research. Using a case study of U.S. health insurance claim denials for genetic testing among women with a breast cancer diagnosis, this work illustrates how the theoretical constructs of FCT and Bourdieu's work articulate, and consequently deepens our appreciation for the durable relationship between socioeconomic status and health. Study results reveal the multiple and complex mechanisms that play a role in access to healthcare services, which has significant implications for how we think about the role of health policy in addressing health disparities.

Keywords: Bourdieu; cancer; fundamental cause theory; genetics; health disparities; health policy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Genetic Testing
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health*
  • Social Class*