J Epidemiol Community Health 55:693-700 doi:10.1136/jech.55.10.693
  • Glossary

A glossary for social epidemiology

  1. N Krieger
  1. Department of Health and Social Behavior, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA
  1. Professor Krieger (nkrieger{at}
  • Accepted 16 March 2001

Why “social epidemiology”? Is not all epidemiology, after all, “social” epidemiology? In so far as people are simultaneously social and biological organisms, is any biological process ever expressed devoid of social context?—or any social process ever unmediated by the corporal reality of our profoundly generative and mortal bodies?1 2 Yet, despite the seeming truism that social as well as biological processes inherently shape population health—a truism recognised even in the founding days of epidemiology as a scientific discipline in the early 19th century—not all epidemiology is “social epidemiology”.3 4 Instead, “social epidemiology” (which first attained its name as such in English in 19503 5) is distinguished by its insistence on explicitly investigating social determinants of population distributions of health, disease, and wellbeing, rather than treating such determinants as mere background to biomedical phenomena. Tackling this task requires attention to theories, concepts, and methods conducive to illuminating intimate links between our bodies and the body politic; toward this end, the glossary below provides a selection of critical terms for the field.

One brief note of explanation. Some entries contain only one term; others include several related terms whose meanings are interdependent or refer to specific aspects of a broader construct. Additionally, each entry is cast in relation to its significance to social epidemiology; explication of salience to other disciplines is beyond the scope of this particular glossary.

Biological expressions of social inequality

Biological expressions of social inequality refers to how people literally embody and biologically express experiences of economic and social inequality, from in utero to death, thereby producing social inequalities in health across a wide spectrum of outcomes.1 2 6 Core to social epidemiology, this construct of “biological expressions of social inequality” has been evident in epidemiological thought—albeit not always explicitly named as such—since the discipline's emergence in the early 19th …

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