The Connection Between Social Class, Ethnicity, and Gender in Relation to Health Inequalities in Australia

There was a time when public health in Australia was influenced by problems of social and economic relationships and social inequalities at the national as well as the international level (Lewis, 2003, p.7). Despite enduring challenges the contemporary picture of health and disease in Australia is much better than it used to be 100 years ago. However one thing is common between these two public health measures, i.e., there was always a connection between social class, ethnicity and gender in relation to the Australian health system.

Sociological theories have explained the experiences of the clinical encounter of living with illnesses and have defined various patterns of health care seeking; as a matter of fact, this has revealed to us that every culture and class shares a distinct pattern (Lin et al, 2007, p. 14). This when relates to the social class gives a picture of gainful employment, since labor market policies aimed at high employment rates are usually not included in what is called income maintenance policies, therefore welfare regimes differ in context with class division (Bakker & Mackenbach, 2002, p. 55). However, such social income levels impact overall levels of employment and the distribution across both class and gender.

It affects gender in a manner in which we can see that female employment rates are particularly sensitive to social policies, and therefore poverty rates in female-headed households are dependent not only on social insurance but also on employment policies, including the expansion of services that provide care for children and the elderly. Since female-headed households are at a greater risk of uncertainty, they are less concerned about their health both socially and economically.

There is a strong bond between income and nutritional behavior as low income is associated with poor nutrition at all stages of life, from lower rates of breastfeeding to higher intakes of saturated fatty acids and lower intakes of antioxidant nutrients (Bakker & Mackenbach, 2002, p. 55). Nutritional avoidance is associated with lower-class which gives rise to reduced growth in fetal life which is further associated with increased risk of morbidity during childhood.

Evidence shows that there are poor nutritional concerns that demonstrate lower class in childhood associated with adverse consequences, resulting in poorer immune status, higher caries rates and poorer cognitive function and learning ability. Low income is a consequence of social inequality and further generates health inequality strongly related to health illnesses like lack of physical activity and obesity.

Systematically distributed by gender, obesity when analysed by four recent Australian surveys revealed that the prevalence of obesity by levels of income for men and women are differentiated by negative association and is fairly consistent among women, as compared with men (Broom, 2008). Indeed, many practitioners suggested that there exists a positive relationship between women’s issues like obesity and income which is a significant issue among social inequalities and gives rise to health risks. The relationship between class, gender and health is one in which gender is common when considered among a variety of exposures and experiences.

According to Broom (2008) “The gendered incarnation of health and risk may reflect resistance as well as conformity to social norms, and may entail the production of new classed and gendered subject positions” (Broom, 2008).


Bakker Martijntje & Mackenbach Johan, (2002) Reducing Inequalities in Health: A European Perspective: Routledge: London.

Broom Dorothy, (2008) ‘Gender In/and/of Health Inequalities’, Australian Journal of Social Issues, Volume: 43. Issue: 1, p. 11.

Lewis J. Milton, (2003) The People’s Health: Public Health in Australia, 1950 To the Present: Praeger Publishers: Westport.

Lin Vivian, Smith James, Fawkes Sally, Robinson Priscilla & Chaplin Susan, (2007) Public Health Practice in Australia: The Organised Effort: Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest, N.S.W.

‘North East Nurses Lead the Way as the NHS Turns 60; NURSING UPDATE’, Evening Chronicle. 2008, p. 8.