The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether social relations are associated with the health of workers. It uses two types of health status measures – self-reported and more objective health – and it considers two types of social relationships: individual social relations, measured through the frequency of meetings with friends; and contextual social relations, the average frequency with which people meet friends at the community level.
A probit model is estimated from the worker sample accounting for the possibility of selecting individuals in the labour market (selection equation). Then expanded probit models (including inverse Mills ratio) are used on both self-reported and more objective health measures using new data from an income and living conditions survey carried out in 2006 by the Italian Statistics Office. Robustness checks are employed to deal with possible problems when interpreting the results.
The study finds that social relations are correlated with health status of workers with differences among health outcomes. Social relations at the individual level are positively correlated with self-perceived health (SPH), negatively associated with chronic condition (CC) but not related to limitations in daily activities. Contextual social relations are negatively linked with CC and limitations in daily activities but not correlated with SPH.
Although the results are consistent with the argument that individual and contextual social relations influence workers’ health, the author cannot prove causality.
Improving the health of workers could reduce health inequalities and could increase work performance. The implication at a macro-economic level of an improvement in the health conditions of workers is relevant in Italy, where the level of labour productivity is low compared to the other developed countries (OECD, 2013). Policy makers should consider the benefits, both at social and economic level, of public policies designed to improve the social and physical infrastructure of social relations.
This paper is the first to relate individual and contextual social relations simultaneously to workers’ health. Moreover, it makes several other contributions to this area: it control for unobserved worker heterogeneity; it uses both subjective self-reported health as well as a more objective measure of health based on CC and limitations in activities of daily living; it adopts a multilevel approach to examine in the same framework the individual and contextual relationship of social relations with individual health status of workers, in so doing, filling a gap in the literature on social capital and public health.
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