This introductory chapter shows how work and worklessness are not the discrete activities of individuals but essential parts of the way in which the totality of society is organized politically, socially, and economically. Work based hierarchies are reflected to greater or lesser extents in wider societal hierarchies, and socio-economic class is determined largely by occupation and work-related income. Work and worklessness and their relationships with health and health inequalities therefore exist within the broader political and economic structures of society. The chapter is divided into three main sections. The first examines the key concepts of work and worklessness, focusing on their relationship with the state in advanced market democracies. The second section provides an overview of the social determinants of health and health inequalities. The final part of the chapter reflects on matters of structure and agency in explaining the relationship between work, worklessness, and health.
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