In order to determine how a population defines the meaning of health, a study was made using a sample of 4,000 respondents from Lorraine, in the north-eastern part of France. The respondents, all of whom were undergoing a health examination, were asked to respond to an open-ended question on what health meant to them. A total of 6,172 replies were obtained whose contents were classified into 41 main themes themselves regrouped under 10 heading (or groups of themes).

The responses were clearly linked to the socio-economic class position of the respondents, which was the most discriminating variable, and the one discussed here. There was a gradient from the higher, non-manual classes to the lower manual classes, the former conceiving health more in personalized, positive and expressive terms, and the latter more in negative, socialized and instrumental terms, thus reflecting the complementary positions of social classes as mediated through the occupational structure.