‘Social factors’ are the varied social categories that could affect a person’s circumstances, experiences, and social position.
Examples of social factors include:
- Socioeconomic status
- Educational level
- Environmental circumstances
- Cultural customs and norms
Social scientists often use social factors as key metrics in their studies. For example, it’s not uncommon for a social scientist to study how a social factor affects a person’s life chances.
Definition of Social Factors
Contemporary sociologists define social factors as circumstances or situations that affect people’s lifestyle and well-being (Gottdiener, Hohle & King, 2019).
These factors include economic status, education, political affiliation, religion, race one’s born into, security, number of children, infrastructure, and population density.
For instance, your family income level can affect whether you get to have an education and which type of school you attend. Which education you receive will then affect what kind of jobs you get.
Sociologists and social theorists often focus-in on one social factor. For example:
- Feminists are very concerned with gender norms, which can be considered a social factor that can restrict or empower people of various genders.
- Marxists are concerned with capitalism, class, and economic capital—each of which structure how wealth and power are distributed across a society.
- Intersectional Theorists are often concerned with the various aspects of identity (ethnicity, race, class, gender, and so on) and how they intersect to create social stratification.
- Educational Sociologists are often concerned with education as a social factor and how it is distributed throughout society.
Examples of Social Factors
- Income – The economic status of an individual influences its educational level, access to health, patterns of illness and death, housing, and security.
- Education – A society’s education system passes on knowledge, attitudes, and skills from one generation to the next. Education then influences various other social factors of a person’s lifestyle such as employment, wealth, and housing.
- Housing – Housing is as an important social factor that affects health, security, education, and wealth. Lack of housing, or poor-quality housing, can negatively affect health and wellbeing. (Rolfe, Garnham & Godwin, 2020)
- Employment – Employment is a social factor that influences people’s well-being, wealth, status, and health. Furthermore, which kind of employment an individual gets depends on age, gender, family situation etc.
- Health – The social determinants of health (SDH) are the non-medical factors that influence a person’s health conditions. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the economic and political system of the society. (World Health Organization, 2016)
- Security – Security is an important social factor for society. For a society to thrive (collectively and on an individual level) peace and security are crucial factors. In sociology variables that have a direct impact on security are economic, political, and cultural factors and demography.
- Ethnicity – Ethnicity is defined by sociologists as the common culture of a social group, such as language, religion, styled of dress, food, shared history and experiences. Hence, belonging to a minority ethnicity often implies less participation in society, discrimination, and fewer socioeconomic opportunities. (Browne, 2005)
- Gender – Categorizing people by sex and gender is found in most society, generally between men and women, boys and girls. Commonly, men have a more dominant position in society. For example, household chores are in most parts of the world still performed by women and unpaid.
- Politics – The political environment influences a person’s behaviour and way of life. Politics is divided into several elements such as regime type, political stability or instability, policy management, corruption, and trade laws.
- Culture – Culture includes a person’s traditions, customs, and beliefs. Lifestyles, buying habits, education and sexuality is all factors that are affected by a person’s or a society’s culture.
- Population density – Population density is the concentration of individuals within a specific geographic area. A society and its members are influenced by the population density as to access to health, education, and infrastructure.
List of Other Social Factors Studied in Sociology
- Income and net worth
- Social welfare
- Healthcare and health policy
- Job Quality and Security
- Early childhood experiences
- Social inclusiveness
- Social conflict
- Social institutions
- Basic education access
- Higher education access
- Quality and equality of educational outcomes
- Food security or insecurity
- Social and political division
- Ethnicity and race
- Social stratification
- Housing quality and security
- Environmental quality and sustainability
- Safety (personal, societal)
- Nationality, citizenship, and national identity
- Political values and ideology
- Cultural values, morals, and beliefs
- Social norms, mores, folkways, and laws
- Family structure (see: types of families)
- Gender equality and gender norms
- Macroeconomic conditions
- Ability or disability (especially how a society treats people with disabilities)
- Community values
- Suburb or neighborhood
- Social infrastructure
- Internet accessibility and quality
- Religious values
- Influences and mentors (e.g. role models)
- Social capital (who you know)
- Cultural capital (your cultural competence)
- Economic capital (your access to money)
- Political capital (your ability to impact political decisions)
- Cultural diversity
- Language diversity, ability, and communication skills
- Freedom and agency
- Transportation (public and private)
- Parental status
- Heteronormativity and sexuality
- Social class
- Social mobility
- Immigration status
- Refugee status
- Indigenous and first nations status
- Accessibility of clean drinking water
- Occupation and profession
- Parenting style
- Globalization and its localized impacts
- Marital status (single, married, divorced, widowed)
- Social stereotypes (positive and negative)
- Political system (democracy, autocracy, etc.)
- Social isolation (especially for the elderly)
- Age and generational status
- Subcultural and countercultural affiliation
- Social status
- Ascribed status (how society categorizes you based on your identity at birth)
- Achieved status (social status acquired through merit)
- Family status (Parent, first born, middle child, youngest, etc.)
- Institutional affiliation
- Caste status (in traditional caste societies)
- Technological access and proficiency
- Place of birth
- Pastimes (especially how they impact health and opportunity)
- Rural-urban divide
- Media (access to, and quality of)
- Medical status
- Upbringing (orphaned, privileged, etc.)
- Consumption habits (fast food consumer, fresh food consumer, etc.)
- Rituals (daily mediation, daily offerings, etc.)
- Military rank (private, sergeant, colonel, etc.)
- Incarceration status (past and present)
Case Studies: How Social Factors Affect People
The economic status of an individual influences a person’s behaviour and way of life. The income level influences which education, housing, insurances, and medical treatments one receives.
For a clear scholarly definition of income, I’d refer to this definition from Shin (2020):
“Income refers to a flow of money that includes not only economic rewards from work but also economic gains from factors such as capital, land, and pension and entitlement.“ (Shin, 2020)
In most cases one’s occupation and social class are essential factors for an individual’s income. Hence, the social factor of income influences various other opportunities in life, such as employment, health, and security.
The education system of a society establishes ways of passing on knowledge, attitudes and skills from one generation to the next. This social factor then influences various other elements of life, such as employment, socioeconomic status and housing.
Sociological studies states clearly that all children with the same abilities do not receive the same education. How well an individual succeed in school depends on other social factors such as income level, ethnicity, and gender. (Browne, 2005).
For example, in Great Britain the working-class is underrepresented in higher education. This is explained by sociologists through a range of factors such as material factors, attitudes, and culture.
These factors result in poorer housing, diet and health of the pupils and culture clashes and teacher’s attitudes against the pupils.
Housing is a key social factor that influences a person’s health, security, education, and wealth.
Lack of housing, or poor-quality housing, can negatively affect health and wellbeing. Sociologists determine that overcrowding, discrimination of landlords, neighborhood security, and poor buildings with mould are all factors that affects individuals and family’s well-being (Rolfe, Garnham & Godwin, 2020).
The social factor of housing is directly connected to a person’s income level, education, health, and security.
Employment as a social factor significantly affect how well and how long people live. What kind of employment a person has influences the ability to make healthy choices, afford medical care and housing, manage stress and more.
The social and economic opportunities people have in a society, such as stable jobs and strong social networks are essential to achieving long and healthy lives. For example:
“Employment provides income that shapes choices about housing, education, childcare, food, medical care, and more. In contrast, unemployment limits these choices and the ability to accumulate savings and assets that can help cushion in times of economic distress.” (County Health Rankings, 2022)
Furthermore, which kind of employment an individual gets depends on age, gender, family situation etc.
The social factor of health are the non-medical factors that influence a person’s health conditions and well-being.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the social determinants of health (SDH) are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the economic and political system of the society. (World Health Organization, 2016)
The SDH have an important influence on health inequities – seen within and between countries. Universally, health and illness follow the same pattern: the lower the socioeconomic position of a person, the worse the health.
The following list provided by WHO shows examples of the social determinants of health, which can influence a person’s health status in positive and negative ways:
- Income and social protection
- Unemployment and job insecurity
- Working life conditions
- Food insecurity
- Housing, basic amenities and the environment
- Early childhood development
- Social inclusion and non-discrimination
- Structural conflict
- Access to affordable health services of decent quality.
Social factors influence a person’s behaviour and way of life. According to sociologists, social factors are circumstances or situations that affect people’s lifestyle and well-being. These factors include economic status, education, political system, healthcare system, culture, ethnicity, security, number of children, infrastructure, and population density.
All social factors of a society are connected to each other. For instance, your family income level can affect whether you get to have an education and which type of school you attend. Which education you receive will then affect what kind of employment you get. Education, income level, housing and employment then influences which medical care you receive and the health conditions in which you live.
Social factors are undeniable essential for the wealth, health, peace, and security of society. In order for a society to work, all social factors must be accessible and developed for its members. When one of these factors are unreachable or poorly developed, it directly affects a person’s behaviour and well-being.
Gottdiener M., Hohle R., King C., (2019), The New Urban Sociology, 6th edition Routledge
K. Browne, (2005), An Introduction to Sociology, Polity Press, Third Edition
Rolfe, S., Garnham, L., Godwin, J. (2020), Housing as a social determinant of health and wellbeing: developing an empirically-informed realist theoretical framework. BMC Public Health 20, 1138.
World Health Organization, (2016), Social determinants of health, Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/social-determinants-of-health#tab=tab_1
Shin, KY. (2020) A new approach to social inequality: inequality of income and wealth in South Korea. J. Chin. Sociol. 7, 17
County Health Rankings, (2022), Social & Economic Factors, Retrieved from https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/explore-health-rankings/county-health-rankings-model/health-factors/social-economic-factors
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.