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Why Do Social & Economic Factors Matter?

Beginning even before birth and continuing through old age, the resources we have and the environments where we work, play, eat, and sleep impact our health. Resources such as quality jobs, family income, educational attainment, and the social characteristics of the neighborhoods we live in can all affect health. Research suggests that these factors can influence our health at least as much as genetics and health care.

Education

Education is associated with improved health throughout life, independent of other variables such as behaviors. Education starts before the school years; early years are critical to children’s development and lifelong health. Good parenting skills, access to high quality early childhood education, and access to affordable quality child care are all important contributors to development and later learning. Adequate education, starting early in life, can reduce the risk of a number of conditions and diseases.

Employment

Employment impacts health not only through the income it provides, but also, through its provision of health benefits and pension plans, and other pathways to financial security. Type of employment can also influence health with better health associated with more job control and security, less stress, and less exposure to danger or toxins. Ongoing, safe employment can lessen the likelihood of a number of conditions and diseases.

Employment is also related to many health factors. Access to safe and affordable housing, for example, is a prerequisite to improving employment. Increasing educational attainment is also an indirect and long-term contributor to secure, gainful employment.

Income

Income and health have a well-established reciprocal relationship that operates in both directions: higher income leads to better health and better health leads to higher income. Income is also related to many other health factors. Access to safe and affordable housing, for example, is a prerequisite to improving income. Increasing educational attainment is also an indirect and long-term contributor to increasing income. Higher income can lessen the likelihood of a number of conditions and diseases.

Family & Social Support

Research has shown that people with greater social support, less isolation, and greater interpersonal trust live longer and healthier lives. This is exhibited through lower levels of anxiety and depression and reduced tendencies towards stress-related behaviors such as overeating and smoking. Family and social support, or social connectedness, can also reduce the likelihood of other conditions and diseases.

Community Safety

The health impacts of community safety are far-reaching, from the obvious impact of violence on the victim to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychological distress felt by those who are routinely exposed to violence. Community safety impacts various other health factors and outcomes as well, including birth weight, diet and exercise, and family and social support. Safer communities can lessen the likelihood of a number of conditions and diseases.