Abstract

Two recent studies focusing on issues of social inequality are reviewed, one the work largely of economists, the other of epidemiologists. In both cases, the conceptualization and in turn the analysis of social inequality appear inadequate. In the case of the economists, concerned with whether, under New Labour, Britain has become a more equal society, attention is concentrated on changes in income distributions to the neglect of the distinction between the attributional and the relational aspects of inequality. The analyses presented reveal serious gaps and a lack of integration that could have been avoided through their grounding in some concept of class stratification. In the case of the epidemiologists, concerned to show a contextual effect of social inequality on population health and other outcomes, stratification is treated as one-dimensional, with no distinction being recognized between class and status. It is in fact status rather than the material inequalities associated with class that are seen as crucial in mediating the supposed contextual effect. But the inferences that are made from the available data on income distributions to inequalities of status and their consequences are often of a doubtful kind.

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