Social Class Beyond Property The Link Between Exploitation and Mental Health

Although property relations might be important predictors of mental disorders (Eaton & Muntaner, 1999; Wohlfarth, 1997), they do not capture the underlying mechanism in the Marxian class tradition, namely exploitation (Wright, 1996). According to that tradition, a measure of social class should not only capture property relations but also the domination of the "exploited" by the "exploiter" and the extraction and appropriation of labour effort (Resnick & Wolff, 1982; Wright, 1996). In fact, most Neo-Marxian measures of social class are exchangeable with Neo-Weberian measures of employment relations because they capture only property relations. That is, both sets of indicators tap into employment relations or labour market exchanges such as "employer" "employee", but do not capture the amount of labour effort extracted from the "employee" by the "employer", which forms the basis of "exploitation" as a social mechanism in the classic Marxian tradition (Muntaner et al., 1998;

Wright, 2005). To follow that tradition more closely, indicators of class exploitation should take into account that: 1) the material welfare of a class causally depends on the material deprivation of another; 2) this causal relation in 1) involves the asymmetrical exclusion of the exploited class from access to certain productive resources (e.g., property rights); and 3) the causal mechanism that translates the exclusion in 2) into differential welfare involves the appropriation of the fruits of labour of the exploited class by those who control the access to productive resources (i.e., the exploiter class) (Wright, 1996). Thus, we can observe that most Neo-Marxian measures of social class measure 1) and 2) in the form of property relations, but do not capture the appropriation of labour effort. In a recent study (Muntaner, Li, Xue, O'Campo, Chung, & Eaton, 2004b; Muntaner, Li, Xue, Thompson, O'Campo, Chung, & Eaton, 2006) we found an association between class exploitation and depression using organizational level indicators that capture both property relations and the extraction of labour effort (for-profit ownership, managerial domination, lack of wage increases). These indicators were strong predictors of depressive symptoms in these studies. They are different from employment relations indicators in that they capture social class exploitation at the organizational level (i.e., the combination of for-profit ownership, managerial pressure, and lack of wage increases taps into high levels of extraction of labour effort and low compensation, or higher exploitation, as compared to the residual category).

In sum, our argument is that there are a number of class constructs that can illuminate the relation between economic inequality and mental health. There a numerous, literally hundreds of measures of mental health in the literature (see Buro's Mental Measurement volumes). In contrast, the sociological part of the equation remains vastly underdeveloped, with researchers using only a handful of measures (income, education, occupation).

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