All human behavior is affected by both agency and structure. No one blindly fol- lows every social rule and expectation. Nor is anyone fully free of socialization, cultural expectations, and social limitations on what options are truly available. Nevertheless, knowing the social groups that individuals belong to helps us predict their odds of adopting various health behaviors: Lower-class citizens are far more likely than upper-class citizens to smoke, men are far more likely than women to drink heavily, and so on. Consistent patterns such as these led sociologist William Cockerham to propose the health lifestyle theory. This theory acknowledges both agency and structure but emphasizes group rather than individual behaviors. Compared with the health belief model, this new theory offers a more com- prehensive analysis of why healthy behaviors are or are not adopted.
Cockerham defines health lifestyles as “collective patterns of health-related behavior based on [life] choices from options available to people ac- cording to their life chances” (emphasis added). According to this theory, decisions about healthy and unhealthy behavior begin with demographic circumstances, cultural memberships, and living conditions. These factors directly affect individu- als’ life chances, such as whether they have the education needed to avoid physically dangerous jobs. In addition, demographic circumstances, cultural memberships, and living conditions indirectly affect life choices through their effect on socialization and life experiences. Those who grow up with parents who consider all alcohol use immoral, for example, will be less likely to drink as adults than those whose parents considered alcohol to be just another beverage.