In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medical Sociology

  • Introduction
  • Handbooks
  • Encyclopedia
  • Dictionaries
  • Data Sources
  • Journals
  • Classic Works
  • Theory
  • The Body
  • Social Class
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Stress
  • Health Behavior and Lifestyles
  • Illness Behavior
  • Doctor-Patient Interaction
  • Physicians
  • Alternative Healing
  • Health Care Delivery and Social Policy
  • Bioethics

Sociology Medical Sociology
William Cockerham
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0034


Medical sociology, sometimes referred to as health sociology, is the study of the social causes and consequences of health and illness. Major areas of investigation include the social determinants of health and disease, the social behavior of patients and health care providers, the social functions of health organizations and institutions, the social patterns of the utilization of health services, the relationship of health care delivery systems to other social institutions, and social policies toward health. What makes medical sociology important is the critical role social factors play in determining or influencing the health of individuals, groups, and the larger society. Social conditions and situations not only promote and, in some cases, cause the possibility of illness and disability, but also enhance prospects of disease prevention and health maintenance. The earliest works in medical sociology were carried out by physicians in the United States, not sociologists who tended to ignore the field. This changed in the late 1940s when large amounts of federal funding became available to support joint research projects between sociologists and medical doctors. At its inception, work in medical sociology was oriented toward finding solutions relevant for clinical medicine. However, in 1950, Talcott Parsons, the leading theorist in sociology at that time, introduced his concept of the sick role that subsequently attracted other theoretical work and had an important role in the emergence of medical sociology as an academic field. Medical sociology has evolved to the point today that it investigates health and medical problems from an independent sociological perspective. Medical sociologists now comprise one of the largest and most active groups doing sociological work in North America and Europe, and the field has expanded to other regions as well. About one of every ten American sociologists is a medical sociologist.


back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.