Cambridge, Mass., October 16, 2009 -- As health care moves to the forefront of the national discourse, new research in the social sciences argues that the health of the population and the success or failure of many public health initiatives hinges as much on cultural and social factors as it does on doctors, facilities, or drugs.
Michele Lamont and Peter A. Hall of Harvard University are co-editors of a new collection of essays that analyze how the cultural frameworks and institutional practices that structure day-to-day life influence societal health, titled "Successful Societies: How Institutions and Culture Affect Health" (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
"While access to health care is important to people's health in broad terms," says Hall, "we think that the health of the population turns less on the quality of the health care, or on the amount of spending that goes into health care, and more heavily on the quality of everyday life."
Hall, Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies, and Lamont, Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, professor of sociology and of African American studies, are both in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. They led an interdisciplinary group of social scientists -- from fields such as epidemiology, psychology, and political science -- who contributed to this volume posing the scholarly question: What makes a successful society?
Societal success has many potential definitions, and so the researchers focused their research agenda on issues of public health. Better health outcomes such as lower infant mortality or longer life expectancy can be perceived as universally desirable and benchmarks for assessing societal success.
While the book examines many themes relevant to contemporary debates about health care, it also moves beyond issues of economic resources to consider the social and cultural factors that affect health.
Previous research has demonstr
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