University of Cambridge > > Department of Geography - Seminars in Cultural and Historical Geography > Behaving badly? Perspectives on health inequalities in two socially contrasting neighbourhoods in North East England

Behaving badly? Perspectives on health inequalities in two socially contrasting neighbourhoods in North East England

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It is widely accepted that health inequalities – unfair, unjust differences in health determinants and outcomes within and between populations – have serious immediate and long-term negative impacts on individuals and societies. But what do lay people think about the social patterning of health? Stockton Borough, North East England, has the greatest inequality in male life expectancy in the country – and the gap is widening. A man living in the most deprived ward will live, on average, 17.3 years less than a man living two miles away in the least deprived ward. This paper presents emerging findings from ongoing, longitudinal multi-site intensive ethnographic research examining how health inequalities are embodied in lived experiences in two contrasting wards within the borough of Stockton-on-Tees. The project is focused on providing an interrogation of the nature of locality, place and community (both as a physical space or a social network) in the two contrasting areas, as well as an extensive and detailed examination of the physical, social and cultural context within which health inequalities manifest themselves and are experienced.

Overall, participants tended to explain health inequalities and the subsequent gap in life expectancy in terms of individual behaviours and attitudes, rather than social/structural conditions. Generally, participants from the affluent neighbourhood tended to focus on lifestyle choice, education, and generational transmission of values and ‘faulty’ behaviours. These findings are variable, however, in terms of an emphasis on structure versus individual agency. Although health behaviour was initially given initially as a potential explanation, particularly during ethnographic observation, participants did offer wider, structural explanations for inequality during in-depth interviews. Discussions amongst people living in the most deprived neighbourhood showed that they were very aware of the effect of relative poverty on their health, physically, emotionally, and socially. Some participants expressed anger and frustration when talking about their experiences, but equally, a sense of fatalism and hopelessness was present in the accounts of people living in the most deprived areas.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - Seminars in Cultural and Historical Geography series.

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