Social Class and Health in Canada: Can Sociological Theory Inform Data Collection?

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Katrina FUNDYTUS, University of Calgary, Canada
Cheyanne STONES, University of British Columbia, Canada
Jenny GODLEY, University of Calgary, Canada
Peter PELLER, University of Calgary, Canada
Lindsay MCLAREN, University of Calgary, Canada
Background. Recent theoretical developments in sociology emphasize cultural and relational aspects of social class. Although many quantitative health studies support a positive association between social class and health, much of this research does not have an explicit theoretical grounding. Existing data sources may not permit quantitative research on social class and health that takes into account modern theories of social class. Objective and Methods. Our objective was to examine the extent to which Canadian national data sources permit theoretically-informed quantitative research on social class and health. We first compiled a list of all population-based Statistics Canada data sources available to Canadian academic researchers. Next, drawing from various sociological theories of social class (ranging from Marx to Bourdieu), we developed a full list of potential quantitative indicators of social class, including economic, social, cultural, and relational indicators. We systematically searched each data source’s questionnaire or codebook and documented the presence or absence of variables which could be used to operationalize each indicator. Simultaneously, we assessed whether health measures were also included in the data source, and examined the data source for additional measures of intersectionality (including gender, race and ethnicity, and immigrant status). Findings. We identified a total of 397 population-based survey cycles which were accessible and had complete documentation, with collection dates from 1965 to 2016. Data extraction and analysis are still in progress, but to date our findings suggest that 1) indicators of economic capital are the most common indicators of social class; and 2) it is relatively uncommon to have rich theoretical indicators of social class, and indicators of health, in the same survey. We conclude with recommendations for future quantitative data collection efforts that would enable researchers to include cultural and relational aspects of social class in their analyses of the effects of social class on health.