Human Biology and Social Inequality

Human Biology and Social Inequality

Moffat, Tina

Human Biology and Social Inequality, edited by S.S. Strickland and P.S. Shetty. Society for the Study of Human Biology Symposium 39. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 346 pp. $74.95.

A book dealing with the subject of human biology and social inequality is a welcome contribution to the discipline of human biology. As Human Biology and Social Inequality illustrates, social inequality is a major mediator of human health status and ultimately human evolution and is thus not only relevant but of paramount importance. This edited volume, based on a human biology symposium, covers a wide variety of topics and methodological approaches, including analysis of prehistorical, historical, and contemporary data, although most of the papers deal with 20th-century industrialized countries and to a lesser extent with contemporary economically developing and postcommunist nations.

The book is introduced by S.S. Strickland and P.S. Shetty, who pursue an interesting discussion about the classical origins of the separation of biological and social domains of inquiry, presumptions of innate inequality, and more recent dilemmas about “fact” versus “values” in scientific endeavors. They conclude that it is within human nature (at least as far back as Eastern and Western classical traditions) to consider inequality as an intrinsic property; however, they are less explicit about the role of 20th-century academics in challenging this view of human nature. Some more recent history of the disciplines of human biology and epidemiology would have been useful in the introduction, although some of the contributors provide this material in the introductions to their own papers.

The book begins with 2 chapters that provide comparative overviews of the social inequality of health for both short-term and long-term risks among varying social groups in contemporary industrialized countries. Although it is necessary to show the empirical connections between health status and inequality, the chapters that go beyond this to probe deeper theoretical questions are the more interesting contributions.

R.G. Wilkinson, for example, proposes that socially cohesive societies with generally more equitable distribution of income will have overall healthier populations, as measured by life expectancy and mortality data. He argues that we should be more concerned with equality than with the desire to raise living standards. By documenting the links between poverty and reemerging infectious diseases, J.D.H. Porter and J.A. Ogden begin to ask the important question of how we address societal inequality. They point out that epidemiologists and public health researchers in the past have focused on individuals rather than societies at large, and they challenge the reader to reconsider the problem from a broader perspective.

Several of the contributions address not only the evidence of inequality and reduced health status but also the long-term impact of such circumstances. In their chapter on environmental health and social inequality, L.M. Schell and S.A. Czerwinski review studies of high exposure to pollutants among people living in poverty in the United States and other postindustrial nations. Using lead contamination as a case study, they illustrate the deleterious multigenerational effects of high blood lead levels. Lead can pass through the placenta of a pregnant woman to her baby; moreover, poor prenatal and postnatal diet (often the result of low socioeconomic circumstances) can actually increase lead uptake in the child. High blood lead levels may cause cognitive and behavioral defects, thereby continuing the cycle of inequality for the next generation.

Similarly, in her review of childhood undernutrition and educational potential and attainment, S. Stinson points out that studies of malnutrition and intellectual attainment in low-income countries show differences in motor abilities between malnourished and nourished children. Thus it is hypothesized that, because malnourished children have impaired interactions with their environment, their intellectual development is impeded. Stinson also maintains that poor children in many developing countries do not attend school, worsening any intellectual impairments that are already present as a result of malnutrition.

Chronic disease, in particular, non-insulin-dependent diabetes (NIDDM), is reviewed by K. O’Dea. Although a great deal of attention has been paid to hypotheses on the genetic linkages between NIDDM and population groups, O’Dea documents ample evidence supporting a strong connection between lifestyle factors (diet and physical activity) and the occurrence of NIDDM worldwide. O’Dea makes the point that in affluent countries body mass index (BMI) is higher among low socioeconomic status groups, whereas the reverse is the case in poor countries. The rapid change from poverty to affluencethe case for many emerging countries and population subgroups within poorer countries-may in fact be problematic. There is evidence that the combination of excessive thinness at birth and obesity in adulthood may actually be a high risk factor for NIDDM and associated diseases.

E. Voland and A. Chasiotis explore issues of reproductive success with reference to social class in 18th- and l9th-century rural Germany. Using parish record data, they show evidence that land-holding farmers successfully raised to adulthood more children than landless farm laborer families. Although Voland and Chasiotis depict a static class structure, C.G.N. MascieTaylor challenges this perspective with his review of social and geographic mobility among human populations. He argues that adaptation, genetic, and evolutionary studies must include the notion of social dynamism.

The final 2 chapters address policy implications of health inequality in both economically developing and postindustrial countries. C. Stephens reviews urban health and social inequality in developing countries. She argues that in the past much of development work went toward resolving urban-rural differences in poverty, because urban dwellers were seen as a burden on rural dwellers. There is now increasing recognition of dire poverty within cities and indeed a double burden for city dwellers who suffer from both infectious and chronic diseases. The final chapter, written by Y. Ben-Shlomo and M.G. Marmot, emphasizes 1 of the major themes of the book: Health differentials among human populations are primarily due to social causes, including lack of resources and power. They argue that although social inequality will always exist, health and social policies can reduce inequities.

As with any collection of papers based on a symposium, there is a heterogeneity of ideas and material. The contributors’ sometimes opposing views make for interesting reading. The only disadvantage of this format is the lack of cohesive focus and agreement about the major themes of the book. For example, there is a subtheme about Darwinian fitness as measured by reproductive success. Several of the contributors test the hypothesis of differential reproductive success among human groups according to socioeconomic status. The consequences of this hypothesis, however, are not pursued, although there is some implication that poor people are disadvantaged in terms of Darwinian fitness. Surely, however, this should be linked to the 20thcentury situation in which the poor of the world have the highest rate of reproduction, even when infant mortality is taken into account; it is obvious that the advantage of this state is dubious in terms of wealth and population prosperity. An alternative way of viewing human evolution, however, is presented by M.N. Cohen in his chapter on the emergence of health and social inequalities with population growth in the archeological record. A.H. Bittles and Y.-Y. Chew also demonstrate the complexity of the concept of Darwinian reproductive fitness in the human species. They review the history of eugenics programs and show some evidence of how powerful elites are trying to control subgroups’ fertility through state-legislated fertility policies in contemporary East and Southeast Asia.

Despite the variety of topics in this edited volume, the definition of social inequality refers almost solely to socioeconomic status, perhaps reflecting a 20th-century Western bias in which social class and economic status are considered synonymous. Although ethnic inequality is mentioned briefly in several chapters with regard to minority populations in contemporary postindustrial countries, inequalities resulting from indigenous population status and sex are not addressed at all in the book.

In conclusion, Human Biology and Social Inequality will appeal to a wide range of academicians and health policy makers because of its broad coverage of a variety of topics and issues. As S. Macintyre points out in her overview on social inequalities and health, scholarly interest in this topic has been long-standing yet intermittent and it tends to resurface every once in a while. Human biologists in the 1990s have rediscovered these issues and have raised some provocative and interesting findings that will stimulate and inform future directions in human biological research.


McMaster Institute for Environment and Health

18 thoughts on “Human Biology and Social Inequality

  1. They LOVE it when people comment on your blog (hint: it adds to the conversation and the content and confirms to them that your site is somewhere relevant to the topic). If the service provider does all this, then there is no reason why it should not be hired. Check out its turnaround time (TAT) for communication on any matter and if a 24X7 technical support team is available.

  2. The holiday season is the time for enjoying sweet delights, and no dish is complete without the taste of truffle. Shelly Shardon writes interesting articles on numberous topics ranging from women’s issue to online marketing tricks. Check out its turnaround time (TAT) for communication on any matter and if a 24X7 technical support team is available.

  3. After looking at a few of the articles on your web page, I truly appreciate your way of writing a blog. I saved as a favorite it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my website as well and let me know how you feel.

  4. Remember, there are many to choose from and the best are those geared toward assisting low to medium income families by offering smaller down payments, no down payments, lowered closing costs and reduced interest rates. I was able to stay away and do traditional, conventional type financing for people. In all, over $11 billion has been provided in mortgage financing for single- and multi-family housing programs. Because of this, Dallas, TX mortgages are now being investigated by new home buyers. That would mean you are taking on a $180k mortgage. Assistance in searching, negotiations, and closing are just a few of the things they can guide you on while in the process of purchasing a home.

  5. The show is looking for high energy individuals that are in the process of buying a new home, condo, or townhome. Try calling local housing agencies and ask about the available home loan programs. In case one solution does not work, he may consider another one. They are going to lie to you, once you sign and see the fine print you are going to realize that it is a ridiculous idea to pay that amount of money in fees. The one big problem is that mortgage money for first time home buyers in Chicago can be hard to find. To begin with, they grant flexible finance guidelines which permit buyers having low credit history to get approved.

  6. This tax is applied at a rate of 1% of the first $200,000 purchase price, and 2% of every dollar thereafter. For instance, if you want granite countertops because you dont like the Formica, the lender is not going to pay for that. In all, over $11 billion has been provided in mortgage financing for single- and multi-family housing programs. Because of this, Dallas, TX mortgages are now being investigated by new home buyers. Mortgage calculators are automated tools accessible over the internet and help determine the effect of changes to any of the mortgage loan components such as the interest rate, repayment amount, principal amount, etc. Your net worth is the basic information that you will need when you apply for a mortgage.

  7. Bernie Rosellen is a New York State licensed Realtor. Qualified properties are identified on the Help-U-Sell website, . There are certain affordable mortgage options which can help first-time homebuyers overcome obstacles that made purchasing a home challenging in the past. An FHA loan is much more forgiving of a limited credit history than conventional loans. Mortgage calculators are automated tools accessible over the internet and help determine the effect of changes to any of the mortgage loan components such as the interest rate, repayment amount, principal amount, etc. If this sounds a bit vague, it is because there are still other factors that could offset any gains that we may see.

  8. They have a program for their qualified members that allows 100% financing of a primary home loan. There really is no better time to buy a first home, a bigger home, or even start investing in homes to use as rentals for sustained income and wealth building. One benefit of home ownership that you can make a potential first time home buyer aware of is the financial advantage of owning a home versus renting. Take advantage of this “down” market and the first time home buyers tax credit. That would mean you are taking on a $180k mortgage. If you are excellent trading cheap stocks do not allow yourself to get arrogant or greedy.

  9. Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will often come back very soon. I want to encourage you to continue your great writing, have a nice morning!

  10. What i do not realize is actually how you’re not really much more neatly-appreciated than you might be right now. You are very intelligent. You understand thus significantly in relation to this subject, made me individually believe it from a lot of numerous angles. Its like women and men are not fascinated except it is something to do with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs great. All the time handle it up!

  11. Hello, i think that i noticed you visited my blog so i got here to go back the choose?.I’m attempting to to find issues to enhance my website!I suppose its ok to make use of some of your ideas!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s