Stability and change in disease prestige: A comparative analysis of three surveys spanning a quarter of a century

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Social Science and Medicine;Volume 180



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In this paper, we present a comparative analysis of three survey studies of disease prestige in medical culture. The studies were conducted in 1990, 2002 and 2014 using the same research design. In each of the three rounds, a sample of Norwegian physicians was asked to rate a set of 38 diseases on a scale from 1 to 9 according to the prestige they believed health personnel in general would award them. The results show a remarkable stability in the prestige rank order over 25 years. The top three diseases in all three surveys were leukaemia, brain tumour and myocardial infarction. The four lowest ranked were fibromyalgia, depressive neurosis, anxiety neurosis and hepatocirrhosis. The most notable change concerns apoplexy (brain stroke), which moved from a rank of 33 to 29 and then to 23 over the three rounds. We argue that the stable pattern, as well as this change, substantiate the interpretation of previous research, i.e. that the prestige of a disease is affected by the localization of the affected organ or body part, the effect and style of its typical treatment, and the social attributes of the typical patient. Analysing physicians’ shared evaluations of different diseases, the paper contributes to the cultural understanding of disease conceptions in medicine. Understanding these conceptions is important because disease prestige may influence decision-making in the healthcare sector.




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