Un Salario Digno and Subjective Social Status


Prior to this research trip to the Dominican Republic, I have worked in public health research in India and Boston, and have travelled in south Asia, Europe, and Cameroon. I had not yet been to Latin America. I had, however, been working on a project involving the Dominican Republic for almost two years, which served as the foundation for this most recent trip, funded by a Tinker Grant. I spent 10 days in the Dominican Republic working with union leaders, activists, and factory workers at an apparel factory in the town of Villa Altagracia. Three years ago, this factory became the first apparel factory in the developing world to both permit it’s workers to unionize and to pay them a living wage. My research team (under Prof. Lia Fernald of UC Berkeley) is interested in how this new model is affecting the health outcomes of these workers. In particular, I am most interested in a measure known as ‘subjective social status’. Subjective social status measures the individual experience of social stratification (due to income/wealth, education, and occupation, but also other, less objective measures). Subjective social status is an incredibly powerful predictor of long term health outcomes – even more so than simply looking at socioeconomic status. Over the years, my colleagues and I have been studying survey data about how this new factory model led to different subjective social status scores. However, this data was removed from the cultural context that is so obviously bound to such an outcome. So, I travelled to Villa Altagracia to interview workers, visit their homes, tour the factory, and observe their lives so that I could get a better sense of how they define status and how unionization and a higher wage may have affected their perception of their own. 

John Landefeld
Publication date: 
September 25, 2013
Publication type: 
Student Research