Relational social class and health

from Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals, 1932-1933

How does capitalism make us anxious and depressed? My work explores how the social division and structure of labor influences population mental health. I draw on social theory to better operationalize social factors as dynamic relational processes rather than individual attributes.

Social epidemiology’s traditional measures of socioeconomic status, like income and education, are the downstream outcomes of dynamic social processes, and do not shed light on the mechanisms generating social stratification in the first place. My work looks upstream to such mechanisms, specifically economic exploitation and domination.

For example, despite a well-established social gradient for many mental disorders, my collaborators and I found evidence that people near the middle of the social hierarchy–those in "contradictory class locations"–suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety than those at the top or bottom. Prevailing indicators of socioeconomic status cannot detect or explain such patterns. My work also explores how exploitation and domination operate in everyday life, by examining how automation, autonomy, authority, and expertise are distributed within and between occupations, and their effects on mental health and substance use.

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