The Educational Stratification of Social Influence Processes and the Valuation of Health Risks

Elaine Hernandez, University of Texas at Austin

People navigate a maze of professional and lay knowledge and beliefs when making decisions about health behaviors. When barraged with health information and beliefs, do people behave differently depending on their educational attainment? Using first pregnancy as an example, I explore educational differences in two behaviors for which women receive conflicting information—prenatal caffeine and alcohol consumption. For both behaviors, I find evidence that the social influence women receive is stratified by their education level. This particular case study also reveals a complex counter-example from a health inequality perspective: very highly educated pregnant women often defy biomedical recommendations. To explain this counter-example, I draw from a sociological perspective that considers the sociocultural forces that lead particular health behaviors to be deemed risky. I argue that we should expand our understanding of the ways that social influence and the valuation of health risks are stratified and thus contribute to health inequalities.

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Presented in Session 67: Health Behaviors, Health, and Mortality I