Attention to the Media and Worry over Becoming Infected: The Case of the Swine Flu (H1N1) Epidemic of 2009

Attention to the Media and Worry over Becoming Infected: The Case of the Swine Flu (H1N1) Epidemic of 2009

Gustavo S. Mesch, Kent P. Schwirian & Tanya Kolobov

Accepted for Publication, Sociology of Health and Illness

Attention to the Media and Worry over Becoming Infected: The Case of the Swine Flu (H1N1) Epidemic of 2009

 This paper examines the relationship between attention to the mass media and concern about becoming infected with H1N1 in two nation-wide random samples interviewed during the flu epidemic of 2009. The first sample (N=1004) was taken at the end of the first wave of the outbreak and the second sample (N=1006) was taken as the second wave was accelerating. The data were gathered by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Over the period studied, almost all social categories of respondents increased in the percentage worried about becoming infected. With social category membership taken into account, both those who followed the H1N1 outbreak closely and those who were more interested in reports about it were more likely to be worried about becoming infected than did others. As time went on, interest in media reports declined but worry over infection continued to increase.  Our findings imply that despite the decrease in the percentage of the population expressing interest and following the news, media exposure was the most important factor explaining the likelihood of being concerned with being infected over and above risks factors and demographic profiles.



New Paper:Minority status and Health Information search: A test of the Social Diversification hypothesis


Minority status and Health Information search: A test of the Social Diversification hypothesis

Forthcoming; Social Science and Medicine, 

Gustavo Mesch, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, University of Haifa,

Rita Mano, Department of Human Services, University of Haifa,

Yeudit Tsamir, Department of Evaluation & Research, Maccabi Health Services,

Group differences in the search of health information were investigated, to test the
diversification hypothesis that argues that disadvantaged groups in society will be
more likely to use the Internet and computer mediated communication to access
health information to compensate for their lack of social capital. Data were gathered
from a sample of Internet users representative of the percentage of minorities in the
general population in Israel (n=1371). The results provide partial support for the
hypothesis, indicating that in multicultural societies disadvantaged groups show
greater motivation to use the Internet to access medical information than the majority
group. We interpreted our findings as suggesting that minority groups that do not
have access to specialized networks use the Internet to overcome their lack of access
to specialized information. Implications of the finding are discussed

Between “digital divides” and the “truly disadvantaged”

“Digital divide” is a concept in use to denote differences in

1. Access

2. Use

3. Skills

between groups of the population. The concept has being coined out of the recognition that access, use and Internet skills provide advantages that are required in the information age. Information is becoming more and more digitalized, communications are being sustained through internet platforms and the ones that are at disadvantage in access, use and lack skills are deprivated from this resources.

In recent years, less attention is being paid to inequality in access and more to inequalities in skills and use. Yet, in this post I want to warn from making methodological and thus, social policy mistakes.

1. there is still a digital divide in access. In most western countries around a quarter of the population do not have access.

2. Access is not randomly distributed. It is much higher among disadvantaged minority groups. For example, access is lower for African-Americans and Mexican-Americans in the use, is lower for the Turkish in Germany,  is lower for the Arabs in Israel.

3. Use is also not randomly distributed. When comparing within a minority group between the ones with access and the ones without access, the results are likely to be that the average education and income of members of minority groups with access is higher and similar to the level of the majority of the population while the ones without access are by far the less educated within the ethnic group.

4. This result is important. Why? because indicated an amplification of the existing inequalities in society. The educated and well off members of the minority groups are getting ahead (nothing wrong with this, the other way around). But, the disadvantaged members of the minority are not only staying behind but becoming segregated not only from the members of the majority but also from the members of their own group.

The remainds to me the idea of Julius Wilson, a professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago that wrote a book indicating that equal opportunity provided opportunities for the members of the African American middle class to residentially and socially separate themselves from the Black underclass that become more and more disadvantaged.

I am suggesting than when conducting research on Internet users to be aware of the sample selection bias of the minority group and be carefull to conclude that in Facebook there is racial integration. This post is inspired by some findings that I am getting in analyzing data on digital divide and on the social inequality in access to health information