Class and Health Inequalities in Australia

Table of Contents


Health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is the complete state of mental and social wellbeing and not only the absence of any disease. Among the social determinants of health are genetic factors, health behaviors, social, economic factors, and also environmental factors. Australia is home to approximately twenty million people, with over sixty percent living in urban areas. There are several factors that influence health and access to health care in Australia; these are education, income level, people’s preferences, and social factors like ethnicity and race (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010, p. 6). Australia has always been ranked among the best countries in the provision of health care in the world and has the top rate of life expectancy.

Definition of Class: The term class is defined as the socioeconomic differences between individuals and groups, and it is based on their material endowment and power. Class in society can be both social and economical, and the two main features of the class are wealth differential and social status (Howarth, 2007, p. 430).

Health and the Health Care: Health and the health care in Australia are on its upward growth and are often faced with competing priorities from different dimensions ranging from individual, local, state, and the federal government. This paper will dwell on social influence on both health inequities and health inequalities. Health inequality explains the variation between health in several groups, and it may result from psychological and genetic factors. Health inequity, on the other hand, explains the difference in health status and also the access that other people might or will have towards health care as a result of social justice and social difference.


Historically, Australian society was founded on inequality; this is traced back to the establishment of penal colonies, evidence of slavery in Queensland, mistreatment of the Aboriginal people, and the introduction of white Australian policy. Class in Australia is a product of two factors: wealth and education. These factors have greatly influenced provision and access to health and health services in Australia. Income and wealth concern the wealth of the people and how the wealth is distributed among the population. Among the individual citizens, a higher income guarantees better access to quality health care (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010, p. 78).

Wealth and Health Care

Wealth and health are considered to be relative as opposed to absolute. The introduction of a government policy that seeks to transfer the provision and the financing of health care to the private sector has made access to health care too expensive for the poor. The mortality rate in Australia is high among the poor Australians when compared with that of the wealth, and this gap has always been on the increase (National Australia Forums, 2002, p. 1). Leaving the provision of health services in the hands of the private sector makes the rates too expensive for the poor segment of the population to afford, thus widening the gap on inequalities in accessing healthcare.

Social Class and Health Care

Social class is an important sociological factor in society, and sociologists believe that it is an important determinant of health in Australian society. The social class provides insight information into power and inequality and also cultural differentiation in society. Social class in society is brought about by three main factors: education, occupation, and income distribution. Social class and class inequality affect the main indicators of health, like health risk and life expectancy. There is always a behavioral pattern relating to the access of health care between the upper and the lower class people in the society (Holmes, Hughes, & Julian, 2007, p. 431).

Social Amenities and Health Care

In Australia, people die due to their inability to access quality health care. Inequalities in health care are manifested in the population’s access to supportive factors like inadequate food, lack of better shelter, inability to access clean water, and better medical care. This social disadvantage, which is caused by the above factors leads to unnecessary diseases and the suffering of the disadvantaged people. Inequalities in health are an inevitable phenomenon in every country and also among the countries of the globe due to the constant fact that we cannot be economically equal (Marmot, 2006, p. 2081). Power is considered a determinant in analyzing class in society. Other factors that define a class in the society are proximity to factors of production and occupation.

Good health in Australia is not shared equally among all the Australian people, and hence there is a significant difference in the demand to access it. These health inequities can be linked with several and different aspects like the level of education of the different segments of the population, individual’s occupation, individuals level of income, and how it is distributed in the society, employment status, race, and ethnicity. Indigenous Australians are the biggest losers in health inequality when compared with the broad aspect of society. In Australia, there are various aspects of poverty that have led to poor health. The people who are economically impoverished suffer many forms of deprivation that lead to the denial of opportunities and choice (Commission on Social Determinants of Health, 2008, p. 1).

Among the factors that are linked with inequalities and class differentiation in Australian society include death, illness, and injury, together with life expectancy. Socioeconomic position of individuals has been considered the major determinant of health inequalities, which gives an economic disadvantage to the poor in society. The most disadvantaged in society are considered the lowest class, and social gradient improves based on the increase in social determinants (Keleher & MacDougall, 2009, p. 182). Health inequality in Australia is best described by the scenario of unequal access to material resources, and consequently, failure by the government to address the issue of inequality may lead to the psychological and social exclusion of the lower class in the society.

With regard to the connection between socioeconomic status and the mortality rate in Australia, it has been validated to be true, and there is an inverse relationship between social class and health. It has been argued that the greatest health hazard in society is the wide and increasing gap between the rich and the poor people in society. In Australia, it is the income generation as opposed to absolute income that is linked to the increased mortality rate. Consequently, in Australia, poverty and income inequality are linked to many cases of pregnancy. Also, the high risk of suicide in young adults has been constantly linked to income inequality (Grbich, 2004, p.172).

Income and social status in society bring some sense of inequality in health care. Those individuals that have a lot of money or the rich have better access to health care, quality nutrition, and, thus, a long life span. With richness follows some social gradient that might result in advancement in education and occupation. Moreover, education also provides a foundation for one’s future ability to make choices that might concern an individual’s occupation (Massey & Durrheim, n.d., p.86).

Class and inequalities in Australian society is a reflection of what takes place in the global environment. With the advent of globalization, countries no longer intervene in the market, and this phenomenon has led to the exploitation of the population. Opponents of globalization have argued that it increases inequality among states. The class and inequality cases in Australia are often constrained by global developments and forces. Consequently, globalization has lead to increased government’s social spending (Conley, n.d., p. 2).


Social inequalities are common in every society. The rich always access quality health care due to the availability of money, unlike the poor whose search for better health care is hampered by lack of enough money. Increasing class stratification in society has influenced the delivery of health services in Australia. The degree of access to health care is defined by an individual’s economic standing in the country, a phenomenon that characterizes any class-oriented society.

Since inequalities are more centered on class, it results in a stratified society where segregation based on one’s economic class determines the individual’s access to social services not only health but also education and social amenities. The current relationship between socioeconomic factors and individuals’ access to health services in Australia is not a new phenomenon and is reflected throughout the world. There is a need for a concerted effort from the government to scale down health and health care inequalities in society.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2010) Australia’s Health 2010. Australia’s Health Series No. 12, Cat. No. AUS 112, Canberra, AIHW. Web.

Commission on Social Determinants of Health. (2008) Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health Final Report, Geneva, WHO. Web.

Conley, T. (n.d.) Globalization and Rising Inequality in Australia Is Increasing Inequality Inevitable in Australia? Web.

Grbich, C. (2004) Health in Australia: Sociological Concepts and Issues (3rd Ed). Sydney, Australia: Pearson.

Holmes, D, Hughes, K & Julian, R. (2007) Australian Sociology: A Changing Society (2nd Ed). Sydney, Australia: Pearson Education Australia.

Howarth, G. (2007) Whatever happened to social class? An examination of the neglect of working class cultures in the sociology of death, Health Sociology Review, vol. 16, no. 5, pp. 425-435.

Keleher, H & MacDougall, C. (2009) Understanding Health: Determinants Approach (2nd ed), Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Marmot, M. (2006) Health in an unequal world, Lancet, vol. 368, pp. 2081-2094.

Massey, P., & Durrheim, D. (n.d.) Income inequality and health status: a nursing issue, Australian journal of advanced nursing, Volume 25, Number 2, pp. 84-88.

National Australia Forums. (2002) Class in Contemporary Australia, with Michael Cathcard. Web.

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