Social Epidemiology Explained: Meaning, Impact, and Jobs

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A subfield of epidemiology, social epidemiology studies how social factors impact population health. Learn more about this important public health career inside

[Featured Image]:  Social epidemiologist researching the impact of social conditions on public health.

Social epidemiology studies the impact that social structures and conditions have on the general public’s health. A subfield of epidemiology, social epidemiology determines the social factors that cause disease, identifies the communities most impacted by them, and devises ways to remedy their spread. 

If you’re interested in a research-oriented public health career that directly impacts your community, you might consider a career in social epidemiology. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about social epidemiology, its impact, and the jobs you can expect to encounter within the field. At the end, you’ll also explore flexible online courses that can help you get started in the field today. 

What is social epidemiology?

Social epidemiology is a branch of epidemiology that studies the impact social conditions have on population health outcomes. 

Much as the broader field of epidemiology is concerned with tracing the origins of diseases and how to contain or stop their spread, social epidemiology is concerned with understanding the social causes of diseases in order to remedy their impact on at-risk communities.  Common risk factors that social epidemiologists study include such social determinants of health outcomes as residential segregation, income inequality, and ethnicity. 

While other forms of health research, such as virology, study disease from a purely biological perspective, social epidemiology considers how social inequalities and health interact to produce adverse outcomes.

Social epidemiology impact 

Social epidemiology increases our understanding of how social factors can impact the health outcomes of both the general public and the communities that comprise it. As a result, the research conducted by social epidemiologists has the potential to guide the development of public policy and help the communities most impacted by the political and economic policy decisions that impact many of our lives. At the same time, social epidemiology is increasingly being used to better understand ways to expand health and medical care services to those communities most at need. By successfully implementing health interventions within at-risk communities, social epidemiology has the potential to provide help at both the community and individual levels. 

Social epidemiologist jobs 

Social epidemiology encompasses many of the same jobs as the field at large but with a greater emphasis on the social factors contributing to health disparities. As a result, when you’re job hunting for a social epidemiologist position, don’t be surprised to see many of the same titles as you might see when looking at more general epidemiology positions. 

Some of the job titles you can expect to encounter when searching for a job within social epidemiology include: 

  • Social epidemiologist

  • Biostatistician

  • Regional disease intervention specialist

  • Epidemiology investigator 

  • Communicable disease specialist

Get started with Coursera

A career in epidemiology begins with gaining the required education and training needed to investigate some of the most important medical mysteries of our day. If you’re considering a career in this impactful public health profession, you might consider taking on online, cost-effective specialization through Coursera. 

John Hopkins Epidemiology in Public Health Practice Specialization prepares course takers with the core epidemiologic toolset to measure the health of populations, assess interventions, collect and analyze data, and investigate outbreaks and epidemics.

Imperial College London’s Infectious Disease Modelling Specialization, meanwhile, provides clear instruction in the basic theory of infectious disease modeling alongside practical, hands-on experience of coding models in the programming language R.

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