Sociopolitical values and social institutions: Studying work and health equity through the lens of political economy

SSM Popul Health. 2021 Apr 2:14:100787. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2021.100787. eCollection 2021 Jun.


Work contributes to health and health inequity in complex ways. The traditional exposure-disease framework used in occupational health research is not equipped to address societal contexts in which work is embedded. The political economy approach to public health directly examines macro-level societal contexts, but the attention to work in this literature is mostly on unemployment. As a result, we have limited understanding of work as a social determinant of health and health inequity. To fill this gap, we propose a conceptual framework that facilitates research on work, health, and health equity in institutional contexts. As an illustration of different social institutions creating different work-related health, we present characteristics of work and health in the United States and the European Union using the 2015 Working Conditions Surveys data. The results also highlight limitations of the traditional exposure-disease approach used in occupational health research. Applying the proposed framework, we discuss how work and health could be investigated from a broader perspective that involves multiple social institutions and the sociopolitical values that underpin them. Such investigations would inform policy interventions that are congruent with existing social institutions and thus have the potential for being adopted and effective. Further, we clarify the role of research in generating knowledge that would contribute to institutional change in support of population health and health equity.

Keywords: European union; Occupational safety and health; Political economy; Social determinants of health; United States; Welfare regime.