Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health

Part of the series Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research pp 229-253


Social Stratification and Inequality

  • Jane D. McLeodAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Indiana University Email author 

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Systems of stratification produce mental health disparities. This chapter examines the evidence for two general processes that produce those disparities: the distribution of life conditions and social evaluations. Proximate life conditions depend on four generic resources: economic resources, social capital, power and authority, and civil rights. Evidence regarding the contributions of these resources to mental health disparities is mixed. Although the positions people occupy in stratification hierarchies are strongly associated with resources, not all resources are equally relevant to all dimensions of stratification or to mental health. Social evaluation processes involve comparisons of one’s accomplishments or experiences to those of others. Research on social comparisons, relative deprivation, subjective status, and justice and equity demonstrates that people who occupy lower status positions perceive themselves as disadvantaged relative to others, but those perceptions depend on several contingencies. Challenges for developing a conceptual model that takes these complex findings into account are discussed.


stratification inequality mental health social stress life conditions social evaluation