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Cigarette Smoking: A Light on Gender and Class Inequality in Britain?*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2009


The decline in smoking prevalence in Britain has been associated with a narrowing of gender differences and a widening of class differences in cigarette smoking. The shrinking population of smokers is increasingly drawn from those occupying subordinate positions in the gender and class hierarchies. The article reviews the evidence linking social inequality and women's smoking, drawing on conventional measures of gender and socio-economic position and on alternative measures which tap more directly into the processes that sustain gender and class inequality. The article deepens its analysis of the links between social inequality and smoking behaviour through a survey of women caring for young children in manual households. The survey uncovered pronounced intra-group differences in the smoking behaviour of women occupying broadly similar gender and socio-economic positions. These differences were associated, in clear and systematic ways, with differences in the mothers' social and material circumstances. High rates of prevalence and consumption and low rates of cessation were related to heavier caring responsibilities and to greater material disadvantage.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995

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