Concepts of illness causation and responsibility: some preliminary data from a sample of working class mothers

Soc Sci Med. 1982;16(1):43-52. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(82)90422-1.


In recent years official policy in the U.K. has been marked by a shift in emphasis from curative to preventive medicine, with increasing stress being laid on the role of the individual in maintaining his/her health. However, we lack empirical data on the extent to which the concept of individual responsibility for health is accepted by various groups in our society and such data is essential before effective strategies for health education can be implemented. It is argued that readiness to accept responsibility for one's health depends partly on the views held about the aetiology of illness, and this proposition is explored using material on causation and the circumstances where blame is attributed, derived from semi-structured interviews with a sample of 41 working class mothers (Socioeconomic Group 9). Roughly half the sample held fatalistic views on the aetiology of illness and thought they were only morally accountable in very restricted circumstances. These women tended to be less well-educated than the rest of the group and they were less likely to be buying their own homes. The results are discussed in relation to current health education policies, consultation behaviours in primary medical care and consumer attitudes to the services provided by their doctors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Disease / etiology*
  • Female
  • Health Education
  • Health Status*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Preventive Medicine*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Wales