Does Self-Identifying as Having a Health Problem Precede Medical Contact? The Case of Infertility

Arthur L. Greil, Katherine M. Johnson, Julia McQuillan, Karina M. Shreffler, Ophra Leyser-Whalen, Michele Lowry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies of medical help-seeking presume that self-identifying as having a health problem precedes medical contact, but this ordering of the identity-behavior relationship has not been systematically examined. We used longitudinal data from the National Survey of Fertility Barriers (2004 to 2010) on 412 women with infertility to document the temporal relationship between self-identifying as having a fertility problem and making medical contact. The symbolic interactionist perspective suggests that infertility will be perceived as identity disruption and that in response women will align self-identity and medical behavior over time. Cross-tabulation analysis indicated that more women do self-identify as having a fertility problem first (24%) as opposed to making medical contact first (5.5 percent). There was also a tendency toward aligning self-identification and behavior over time. Latent class analyses revealed six patterns: 1) consistently involved, 2) early consulters, 3) consistently uninvolved, 4) consistent perceivers, 5) medical dropouts, and 6) early perceivers. Strong fertility intent and primary infertility, two identity-relevant characteristics, had the strongest associations with latent class membership. The relationship between self-identification and medical help-seeking is thus dynamic and complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-253
Number of pages18
JournalSociological Focus
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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