Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

Social Networks and Health Inequalities


Logo SoNegU (c) Thünen-Institut/Andreas Klärner
Logo of the Research Network "Social Networks and Health Inequalities" (© Thünen-Institut/Andreas Klärner)

Social Networks and Health Inequalities - Research Network

Social inequalities between people are deeply connected to health. Those with lower socio-economic status are more likely to become sick and they die earlier than those with higher socio-economic status. This project aims at examining the factors responsible for turning social inequalities into health inequalities.

Background and Objective

Social Epidemiology and the Sociology of Health show clear evidence for a close connection between socio-economic status and health. People with lower socio-economic status are more likely to become sick and they die earlier than those with higher socio-economic status.

Until now, there is now general and uncontested theoretical explanation for the causes of these health inequalities, but social relations and social support seem to be an important factor. Yet, research only rarely accounts for the entirety of social relations, their structure and the effective social and socio-psychological mechanisms.

Social network research, which has become popular in anglo-american health research, may be able to address the importance of social relation in the reproduction of health inequalities.

In the research network "Social Networks and Health Inequalities", which is funded by German Research Foundation, researchers from different disciplines (sociology, psychology, public health et al.) and with different methodological background (quantitative and qualitative) come together. Their aim is to communicate the social network perspective to German-speaking health researchers and to use this perspective for driving forward scientific explanations for health inequalities.

A special focus of the project part at Thünen Institute will be on regional health inequalities, especially regarding possible differences between structure and function of social networks in rural and non-rural areas.



Research Network; multi-method approach (literature research, quantitative and qualitative methods of social network research)

Our Research Questions

(1) Do differences in social status influence composition of social networks of interpersonal relations?

(2) Are differences in social status, i.e. in vertical dimensions of social inequalities such as education, occupation and income, associated wit different network influence and selection mechanisms regarding health behaviors?

(3) Do network effects cause different health consequences depending on social status?

(4) Do social networks have different effects on individual health behaviors in distinctive phases of life?

(5) How do social networks change depending on social status when age related health constraints occur?

(6) Which health consequences do network changes in old age have?

(7) Which differences of structures and function of social networks do we find along the lines of gender, ethnicity and regional disparities - especially between rural and non-rural areas?

Preliminary Results

Main result of the research network will be a German language book and an English language systematic review journal article, which depict the state of research, points out desiderata and opens up perspectives for future research.

Links and Downloads


Involved external Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
    (national, öffentlich)


1.2016 - 12.2018

More Information

Projekt type:
Project funding number: KL 2960/1-1
Project status: ongoing

Publications to the project

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