Social and Behavioral Science - Allostatic Load – Social&Family Issues Example

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"Social and Behavioral Science - Allostatic Load" is a worthy example of a paper on social and family issues. Seeman et al. describes allostatic load as a biomarker of “ weathering” or “ wear and tear” on the human body What differences would you expect to find, on average, between the allostatic load levels of African-American and White populations in the US and why? Allostatic load refers to the biological changes that occur because of exposure to stressful situations (Seeman et al. , 2014). It is also the consequence that individuals experience after a low sense of control of their personal lives due to financial outcomes, family, or work pressure.

Feelings of deprivation follow shortly. The allostatic load is significant because they often increase the chances of individuals contracting chronic diseases. According to Seeman et al. , low social standing leads to individuals having less control over their lives (2014). That is, the socio-economic status of individuals increases their allostatic load thereby increasing their morbidity. In terms of allostatic load, African Americans have relatively higher loads than their white American counterparts (Subramanyam et al. , 2013). This load is due to their categorization of having lower socio-economic status in society and their participation in risky and heavy jobs that entail manual labor.

Furthermore, the aftermath of racism also weighs down on this population, which further exposes them to a higher allostatic load than the white population. Subramanyam et al. concede that low incomes are associated with increased cases of hypertension in individuals, especially men who score high in John Henryism (2013). John Henryism is a prevalence ration that correlates income with hypertension prevalence rates; this metric is reminiscent of the African American laborer famous for beating the mechanical steam drill.         African Americans are known to partake in manual labor and other strenuous activities in order to support their families (Subramanyam et al. , 2013).

For this reason, they strain their bodies through ‘ high effort’ coping or John Henryism. The connection between socioeconomic status and health is evident all across history. Certain health conditions are more prevalent in specific socio-economic groups than others (Seeman et al. , 2014). The sense of control over one’ s livelihood is the most certain indicator in determining an individual’ s susceptibility to certain diseases. What evidence suggests that social support or social integration, as a function of social capital, would affect the allostatic load levels of populations? As stated earlier, the social capital of individuals increases their susceptibility to certain diseases.

That is, relative differences in an individual’ s status indicate absolute differences in life chances. One’ s status in society is a relative concept rather than absolute, and it changes with time. Marmot notes that incomes are indicative of an individual's social ranking in society (2007). Income level, moreover, is determined by the capabilities of a given individual.

Low earning individuals have less control and have low social participation thus increasing their risk of disease (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2011). Social participation is an individual’ s contribution to society through social networking and the receipt of social support from individuals (Subramanyam et al. , 2013). The lower the social participation the higher the risks of mortality rates and vice versa. Reciprocity is another aspect of social participation; individuals often expend effort towards others with the expectation of being rewarded with similar gestures (Subramanyam et al. , 2013). Status, as with health, plays a significant role in social participation.

Individuals with higher social status are awarded social activities while their low-status counterparts are denied the same. In addition, society fosters social participation, hence favoring high-status individuals in the process. Loss of trust, for instance, increases the prevalence of suicides in society (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2011). Trust and reciprocity are significant forms of social capital. Considering this, it is a known fact that social capital increases with status with high-status individuals having capital that is more social. With increased social capital, individuals are able to reap more health benefits that are resultant of social participation (Marmot, 2007).

This leads to the unfavorable conclusion that the lack of autonomy and low social participation leads to inequality in health evident in today’ s society. Marmot describes an association between social gradient and health. Considering the work of Wilkinson and Pickett, how would the health of people on different levels of the social gradient be affected by living in a society with a Gini Coefficient of. 250 as compared to a Gini Coefficient of. 450 and why? The Gini coefficient compares the distribution of wealth across areas.

Low coefficient denotes equality in resource and wealth distribution; whereas high coefficient denotes unequal distribution. Areas with a Gini coefficient of. 25 are deemed better than areas with a . 45 coefficient because the former signifies areas with equal distribution of wealth, and the latter denotes unequal distribution. Furthermore, lower coefficient leads to lower feelings of deprivation thereby better health conditions among the populace. Social gradients, according to Wilkinson and Pickett, determine the health and social problems of a given community (2011). Areas with a . 45 Gini coefficient or higher are often associated with poor health and violence.

Wilkinson and Pickett discover that problems that are experienced at the bottom of the social ladder are prevalent in societies that are unequal. These societies, moreover, have lower levels of trust as individuals are unwilling to trust others.   Wilkinson and Pickett note that these societies are more masculine as women do not actively participate in politics, employment, and economic (2011). This is in comparison with societies with a . 25 coefficient where women actively participate in the aforementioned areas. Drawing on Phelan and Link’ s Fundamental Cause Theory and relevant research, how would the gradient be affected by policies providing full access to health services and why? The fundamental cause theory according to Phelan and Link influences the risk of diseases, mortality, and the access that individuals have to resources (2004).

Access to health services for the population would have a significant impact on the social gradient, as it would be less steep. Individuals who were previously susceptible to certain ‘ class’ diseases would be healthier and able to reduce their mortality rates.

However, full access to health services would not significantly influence the gradient, as it does not bridge the income inequalities present in society (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2011). Access only affects one aspect of life, health, which is a consequence of the social hierarchy of individuals. To further reduce the steepness of the social gradient, policymakers should target the inequality gap in their society (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2011). A reduced gap is more beneficial to society than access to health facilities. The access is treating the symptoms of the increased inequality gap rather than the condition.

Thereby, full access to health facilities is a counterintuitive approach to reducing the mortality rates in a given society. To what extent do changes in wealth distribution and social capital explain the changes in the social gradient and health over time in the US? Over time, it has become evident that stress is the primary cause of chronic diseases. Stress is because of steep social gradients in society. Chronic conditions such as heart disease were often considered to be exclusively a rich man’ s disease, but this is not the case (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2011).

Individuals with lower income were more susceptible to chronic conditions and diseases than their higher-earning counterparts. These observations are among many that concedes that the sense of control and autonomy plays a significant role in the health of a population (Yip, 2007). The social gradient in American society has lessened in recent years; however, there has been an increase in chronic diseases. Americans are more obese than ever and are more susceptible to chronic diseases. What impact does increased medicalization have on the social gradient and morbidity over time? Increased medicalization is often regarded as the solution to the effects of inequality in society.

As mentioned earlier, social inequality leads to lower life expectancy, poor health, low birth weight, higher infant mortality, depression, and AIDS (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2011). The medicalization of society often leads to a significant decrease in these conditions. However, medicalization is not a permanent solution to the rampant health issues among individuals of lower social ranking. Even with the decreased mortality rates, society does not experience a reduction in wealth inequality.

Medicalization is a short-term, and temporary, solution to the social inequality problem and its consequences. To truly reduce the morbidity in society, social inequality should be addressed rather than increasing medicalization efforts.


Marmot, M. (2007). Status Syndrome. JAMA, 295(11), 1304.

Phelan, J., Link, B., Diez-Roux, A., Kawachi, I., & Levin, B. (2004). "Fundamental Causes" of Social Inequalities in Mortality: A Test of the Theory. Journal Of Health And Social Behavior, 45(3), 265-285.

Seeman, M., Stein Merkin, S., Karlamangla, A., Koretz, B., & Seeman, T. (2014). Social status and biological dysregulation: The “status syndrome” and allostatic load. Social Science & Medicine,118, 143-151.

Subramanyam, M., James, S., Diez-Roux, A., Hickson, D., Sarpong, D., & Sims, M. et al. (2013). Socioeconomic status, John Henryism and blood pressure among African-Americans in the Jackson Heart Study. Social Science & Medicine, 93, 139-146.

Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. (2011). The spirit level: Why greater equality makes societies stronger. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Yip, W., Subramanian, S., Mitchell, A., Lee, D., Wang, J., & Kawachi, I. (2007). Does social capital enhance health and well-being? Evidence from rural China. Social Science & Medicine, 64(1), 35-49.

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