Michael Marmot, in his book “The Status Syndrome, How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity” makes the case through massive data gleaned from many sources over 30 years that health can be determined by social status, with the level of integration of a society as a predictor of the health of that society.
This idea was first predicted by pioneering Sociologist Durkheim and while now called Social Capital many studies find the connection valid as a predictor of social health as well as potential aid for the individual participant to learn from and apply for their own lives.
In other words, the better connected a society is the better the level of trust and the better the health of the society as a whole would be expected. This does not always mean the rich are expected to have better health on the macro level or whole society level. Many other things enter into this line of thinking. How close an individual is to others in society for instance plays a huge role in their life expectancy.
Life expectancy can also be extended as a society during wars as demonstrated by Amartya Sen who found that in Britain during the war years an increase in life expectancy existed and was thought to be from the positive effects on societies’ social integration which directly reflected mortality rates. War brought folks together in a way that focused their efforts and their common cause, resulting in longer life for society as a whole despite the deaths from the war.
Durkheim, a father of Sociology studied social integration from religious, domestic, and political points of view with regards to suicide rates. His findings supported his conclusions that the more integrated a society was the less the rate of suicide would be. Specifically in 19th century Europe he found that Protestant countries in Europe were often found to have higher rates of suicide than countries where the population was mostly Catholic.
In general the rates of suicide were even lower for Jewish populations. His conclusions from these studies were that the strong and unified society for the Jewish population and also for the Catholic population supported people and resulted in lower suicide rates than the Protestant populations where a more individualist approach to life was observed.
Please note this does not endorse one religion over another, it cites how populations in specific countries implemented their respective religions and how that part of their lives impacted their health.
Durkheim went on to study the effects of marriage on populations and the effects of war on total population suicide rates as well. He concluded that social integration was one of the biggest factors in not only the health of a population but in the individuals as well. Now called social capital and studied for the last 30 years or so before Marmot’s book in 2004, social integration can be applied by the individual confidently for both status raising health impact as well as strategies for health improvement through social connections.
The bottom line is that individuals can do things to increase their social status. They can do things to increase their social capital.
They can also significantly raise their health expectations by positively driving these aspects of their lives!
If you take the proper actions, you can improve your chances of not only extending your life but having a better quality of life. Many people would expect that the rich would as a society outlive the poorer societies. Money is not the single best predictor of longer life however when it comes to societies.
Ichiro Kawaichi from Harvard University was a researcher who took on this question on the relationship between the differences in social capital and the good or low health expectations. His team used surveys to quantify the level of trust in groups and then looked for the expected results of health levels. Societies that can be viewed as high in social cohesion like Japan who is rich, Kerala which is poor, or in the middle like Costa Rica have better health than others with equal wealth but less social cohesion, concludes Marmot in his book, The Status Syndrome. So the amount of money of a society is less a predictor of health than many people would think.
Another aspect to health is the impact on individuals who have low control over their lives, or at least a perception of that low control.
Marmot writes, “Furthermore, the greater the degree of inequality of material deprivation and of income, the worse the health”. Low control was the link in this issue between health and living poor. Generally speaking, the poor view their lives as having less control and the well-off view their lives as having more control over their individual decisions.
This concept of health and income inequality with regards to an aging population is something we in the United States will confront in greater degrees in our future as our economies seem to be driving a greater economic wedge between the poor and the rich. Can government policy changes help overcome the health disparities predicted or perhaps resulting from the poor who have low control over their lives and yet will be entering the government health care system at greater rates in the next few years?
This post is right now concerned with the individual and how that member of society can positively impact their potential future health by making changes in their lives. These changes need to be cost effective and also not barred by social status. They need to be within the reach of the normal American. I believe the studies cited in this post reflect that potential for the normal American to positively impact their lives. These studies and many others show an individual’s health impact positively improving by increasing social connections. This is one reason for someone to join a group!
The empowered volunteer’s mission is to help people understand the benefits of joining their respective group.
In short, the stage is set for the Empowered Volunteer to take charge of their lives and reap the potential impact on their health and mental wellbeing while helping others find their way towards these same benefits. This is truly a win-win situation.