Explaining Social Class Inequalities in Smoking: The Role of Education, Self-Efficacy, and Deprivation

Richard Layte, Christopher T. Whelan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    46 Citations (Scopus)


    Rates of smoking have decreased dramatically in most Northern European countries over the last 50 years or so, but manual working class groups are substantially more likely to smoke daily than are the professional and managerial classes. This article examines three hypotheses about the processes producing these inequalities. The first argues that social class inequalities reflect differences across education groups in knowledge of the risks of smoking. The second suggests that the living conditions of lower social class groups leads to the development of lower self-efficacy and a lower propensity to quit smoking. The third states that smoking has a functional use among poorer individuals. This article draws upon data from the Republic of Ireland to assess these hypotheses. Our analysis provides some support for the first hypothesis in that education independently reduces the odds of a manual class person smoking relative to a non-manual by 12 per cent. The second hypothesis is not supported by the data. The third hypothesis gains the most support: measures of disadvantage and deprivation account for almost one-third of the class differential in smoking. The results suggest that smoking cessation policy should reflect the importance of social and economic context in quitting behaviour.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)399-410
    Number of pages12
    JournalEuropean Sociological Review
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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