The coronavirus class-divide

Those in working class jobs are about two to three times more likely to die of covid-19 related deaths compared to those in middle class jobs.

The Office for National statistics allows you to look at the latest figures for covid-19 infections and covid-19 related deaths, and one of the aspects of the death rate it focuses on is how it varies by occupation.

The covid-related death rate is three times higher among men working in elementary and service occupations (the working classes) compared to those working in professional and managerial occupations (the upper middle classes)

The class difference in the covid related death rate isn’t quite as large for women – those in ‘working class’ jobs are only around twice as likely to die as those in professional jobs…

OK so I’m being quite crude in my measurements of social class, but nonetheless, this is yet more evidence of social class inequality in the UK

Why are the working classes more likely to die from Covid-19?

This article from The Conversation sums it up nicely:

Referring to the ‘coronavirus class divide’ (there’s a not so nice new concept for you!) the answer is very simple:

Working class jobs are the kind of jobs you have to be physically present to be able to do – cleaning, care work, taxi-driving, food and accomodation services – you simply have to be ‘out there’ away from home and you are more likely to be interacting with people.

And thus you are more exposed to the virus if you are working in a manual, working class job:

While if you’re in a managerial or professional role, it is much easier for you to work remotely, to work from home, or if you must go into your workplace, it is easier for you to maintain social distance by shielding yourself in an office or at your individual work station.

The figures for stay at home work, post lockdown, are much higher for those in middle class jobs:

So there is even a class divide when it comes to your chances of contracting and dying from covid-19

Relevance to A-level sociology

This can be used as a rather depressing update to the ‘death rate’ topic which is part of families and households, or the ‘health’ topic within global development.

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Explaining the long term decrease in the death rate

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Explaining the long term decrease in the death rate

What are the Trends?

  • The death rate has halved in the last century, declining from 19/1000 to 10/1000 today.
  • In the first part of the century,most of this decrease was due to fewer children dying of infectious diseases, later on in the century, the continued decline is due to people living longer into old age.
  • The major causes of death have changed – from mainly being due to preventable, infectious diseases in the early part of the century to ‘diseases of affluence’ such as heart disease and cancers today.
  • There are considerable variations in life expectancy by gender and social class – people in the poorest parts of Glasgow die before 60, in the wealthiest parts of the UK (e.g. Kensington) life expectancy is nearer 90.

Explaining the decrease in the death rate

1. Economic growth and improving living standards

There are number of ways in which this had led to a decline in the death rate:

  • better food and nutrition (which in turn is related to better transport networks and refrigeration) which has meant that children are better able to resist infectious diseases, reducing the infant and child mortality rates. This is estimated to account for 50% of the decline in the death rate.
  • Better quality housing – Better heating and less damp, means less illness.
    Smaller family sizes – as people get richer they have fewer children, which reduces the chances of disease transmission.
  • More income = more taxation which = more money for public health services.
  • Evaluation – It’s worth noting that not all people have benefited equally from the above advances. The wealthy today have longer life expectancy than the poor, who still suffer health problems related to poverty.
  • Evaluation – In terms of food and nutrition, obesity is now becoming a serious problem – more food doesn’t necessarily mean better nutrition.

Medical Advances

  • Mass immunisation programmes limited the spread of infectious diseases such as measles.
  • Important in improving survival rates from ‘diseases of affluence’ such as heart disease and cancers.
  • Only really significant since the 1950s.
  • Evaluation – It’s easy to fall into the trap into thinking that modern medicine is the most important factor in improving life expectancy, it isn’t – economic growth, rising living standards and improvements in public health are more important.

Social Policies

  • The setting up of the NHS
  • Health and safety laws – which legislate so that we have clean drinking water, food hygiene standards and safe sewage and waste disposal
  • The clean air act and other policies designed to reduce pollution
  • Health and Safety laws at work.
  • Evaluation – These are largely taken for granted, but they are important!

Other factors

  • There is greater knowledge and concern about health today
  • The decline of manual work means work is less physical and exhausting and less dangerous.

Overall conclusion/ analysis points

  • 3/4s of the decline between the 1850s and 1970 was due to the reduction of infectious (fairly easily preventable) diseases such as Cholera, and improved nutrition accounts for half of this reduction. In these early years
  • More recently, the decrease in the death rate has been due to improving survival rates from heart disease and cancers.
  • The declining death rate is not necessarily all good – in the last decades we have witnessed a declining death rate and a declining birth rate – and so we now have an ageing population, which requires society to adapt in order to meet the different demands of differently structured population.

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