Social Networks and Health Inequalities

Differences in social status are strongly correlated with health behaviors and outcomes. People of lower socio-economic status have higher rates of morbidity and mortality across all stages of the life course. Propensity for several physical and mental illnesses is closely related to socio-economic status. This is known for a long time and social epidemiological research has shown this connection consistently. Yet, there is no general and widely acknowledged theoretical explanation for the causes of these health inequalities, and there is much research to do on the precise factors and the social and socio-psychological mechanisms which are at play in conveying social inequalities in health, health behaviors and health inequalities.

In this context social support and social relations have obtained considerable attention within sociological and psychological approaches towards explaining the reproduction of health inequalities. But these approaches only rarely consider the whole network of inter-individual relations, the structures and influence mechanisms. While this perspective of social network analytical approaches recently gained much attention in the anglo-american health research, there are only a few studies in Germany.

The research network „Social Networks and Health Inequalities“ consists of researchers from the fields of sociology, psychology, public health, and educational science with backgrounds in quantitative and qualitative methods. We are jointly working together in order to (1) disseminate the use of social network analysis in health research in Germany, and (2) to use the network perspective for explaining the reproduction of health inequalities. We plan on publishing a volume covering the state of research, open research questions, and perspectives for future research.