French perceptions of the link between work and health :
the role of gender and occupational norms
French perceptions of relations between work and health may be approached by way of two types of sources, quantitative – the Sumer survey – and qualitative : a local survey of hospital caregivers and subcontracted male workers in heavy industry. Three major analytic models of relations between work and health are identified : work as a naturalized, unrecognized or denied factor in health damage or deterioration ; work as health « operator » ; and work as a factor of selection by health. Data generated by the two source types are used to test the three models. The conclusion is not only that those models must be combined but also that they must be supplemented by taking into account more attentively the diverse social and subjective meanings of the notions « work » and « health » and enriched with the objective and subjective connections among them. Gender, for example, distinctly defines the meaning and place of occupational work in people’s lives. The results also suggest the relevance of considering work not only as an activity but a social and economic status, and an activity whose meaning and value for respondents cannot be dissociated from the constraints and choices of everyday life or the social trajectories associated with subjective views of existence and thus with health itself ; i.e., whether and to what degree one feels able to act, whether and to what degree one feels one has succeeded or is succeeding socially.