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Social Class Background, Health Lifestyle, and the College Experience

Leibowitz, Rebecca (2011)
Honors Thesis (60 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Scott, Tracy L
Committee Members: Condron, Dennis ; Tamasi, Susan L
Research Fields: Sociology, General
Keywords: health; college; cultural capital; Bourdieu
Program: College Honors Program, Sociology
Permanent url:


Building on the work of Pierre Bourdieu in "Distinction," this study attempts to find a link between social class background and the health lifestyles of Emory undergraduate students. Twenty students, ten from lower social class backgrounds and ten from higher social class backgrounds, were interviewed in-depth about their childhood experiences, personal conceptions of health, and current health lifestyles. Students from lower social class backgrounds reported being raised in environments that neither encouraged nor modeled healthy eating and exercising. Respondents from higher social class backgrounds tended to recall their parents modeling and encouraging healthy eating and regular exercise. However, once each group of students matriculated to college, they were likely to adopt the opposing health lifestyle. Students from lower social class backgrounds often began eating healthily and exercising, while students from higher social class backgrounds frequently neglected to exercise regularly or maintain a balanced diet. The majority of students from both social class backgrounds spoke about "the college lifestyle" - a subculture that represents a break from the "real world" and promotes and normalizes rampant alcohol and drug use - as a major barrier to attaining an optimal level of health. Future research should serve to illuminate the patterns I have found in greater depth. The concept of "the college lifestyle" as a subculture with its own set of norms that imply a barrier to health should be investigated in detail.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Theoretical Background 3

Bourdieu and Cultural Capital 3

DiMaggio and Status Culture 4

The Body as a Manifestation of Taste 5

Bourdieu's "Body-for-others" Ideology 9

Empirical Work 9

Acquisition of Cultural Capital 9

Cultural Capital and Health 12

Methods 17

Sampling Technique 18

Interview Process and Coding 20

Results 22

Perception and Practice of Health 22

Bourdieu's Notions 23

Exercise as Social Participation 26

Social Class Background and Health Lifestyle: Higher Social Class 26

Social Class Background and Health Lifestyle: Lower Social Class 29

College Experience and Health Lifestyle: Higher Social Class 31

College Experience and Health Lifestyle: Lower Social Class 34

College Experience and Health Lifestyle: "College Lifestyle" as Barrier 37

Discussion 40

Relation to Bourdieu and Warde 40

Interpretation of Findings 43

Role of College Experience 45

Limitations 46

Areas for Further Research 47

Works Cited 49
Appendix 51


application/pdf Honors Thesis 60 pages (365.7 KB) [Access copy of Honors Thesis]
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