How Socioeconomic Issues Affect Health and Chronic Conditions

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  • 0:01 Society
  • 1:34 Stress
  • 3:19 Environment
  • 4:56 Access
  • 5:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lessons examines some of the fundamental differences of socioeconomic status, as well as how these issues interact with a person's health and their chronic conditions.


We live in a very complex society decided largely by one's socioeconomic status means. People are famous because they are rich and rich because they are famous. And it is with an increase in socioeconomic status that access to goods and services improves, or with a loss in status that access to goods or services decreases. It's kind of like the person who has everything gets more, and the people who don't have anything keep getting less.

Socioeconomic status is a remark on one's standing in society, often a combination of education, income and occupation. It is often given the indicator of high, middle or low. Previously, socioeconomic status was called class, but this was a bit of a misnomer. People can have low status but a lot of class, and others can have a high status but very little class.

What this translates to, as we discussed earlier, is a limitation in accessing goods and services. The focus of this lesson from here on out will be on chronic disease, sometimes referred to as a chronic condition, which is a condition that develops more slowly and typically worsens over time. We will explore how chronic diseases are affected by lower socioeconomic status.


There are many ways socioeconomic status and chronic condition can interact. One is stress, the terrible thing we all feel. Let's look at a simplified example of where stress comes from.

John is wealthy, and Steve is not. John and Steve both need food, a way to get to work and medicine for their sick kid. John uses his savings to purchase food, a nice car and brings his child to their personal doctor. Steve uses his paycheck to purchase food. There is not enough for a car, creating some stress and disappointment in himself. Steve needs medicine but is unable to afford it and stresses over a way to obtain medicine within his limited means.

What about a single mother and women living on their own? Women, on average, make 77 cents for the same job as men. A single mother will have even less than Steve does, but still have all the demands placed on her. Slice it how you want; it means that whenever we talk about stress, imagine the single mother with at least double what we're discussing.

Stress on the body is sort of like pumping battery acid into the veins. It damages the organs and generally deteriorates everything. If Steve from our example does not find a way to alleviate his chronic stress, then he will likely develop a chronic disease, like heart disease or even cancer. If a chronic disease is already present, like cancer, arthritis or heart disease, the effects of it will be magnified several times, most likely killing Steve in a gruesome way as his body breaks down while he is still alive.


The environment is a catchall term for everything around us, including what we put in our bodies. Looking back at John and Steve, there will be clear differences in their environments they occupy. John likely lives and works in a more upscale neighborhood, with reduced pollution and an increased sense of well-being. It's hard to feel scared in a nice neighborhood; they just give the illusion that everything is okay.

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