New work in the journal Sociology of Health and Illness by Seth Prins, a Doctoral Student in Epidemiology, and Cluster faculty, Lisa Bates and Katherine Keyes, explores how social class may influence depression and anxiety in ways that are not explained by standard socio-economic measures such as income and education. Using data on full-time workers from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (n = 21,859) they find that individuals with supervisor and managerial positions have higher rates of anxiety and depression than those with worker positions or ownership positions.
This non-linear trend in risk across the hierarchy of occupational positions may be explained by the concept of “contradictory class location” and the job strain experienced by employees in the middle and lower ranks of organizational hierarchy. Individuals, often in supervisor level positions, who are expected to implement company policy but not develop it, have higher wages/autonomy than workers but lower wages/autonomy than executives. This location within class relations is said to be contradictory because it embodies aspects of both ownership and labor.
The concept of contradictory class location emphasizes political-economic processes and dimensions of power that are not readily captured by standard Social Epidemiology measures like income and education. These findings suggest that the effects of class relations on depression and anxiety extend beyond those of socioeconomic status, pointing to under-studied mechanisms in Social Epidemiology, for example, the social processes of domination and exploitation.