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The Importance of Social Cues for Discretionary Health Services Utilization: The Case of Infertility

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Abstract

Infertility is a discretionary health condition; although it carries with it important life course implications, treatment is rarely necessary for health reasons. Sociological theories of medical help-seeking emphasize demographic factors, perceived need, and enabling conditions in health services utilization, but we find that social cues are also strongly associated with health services utilization for infertility. Adjusted for conventional predictors of medical help-seeking, several social cue indicators have significant associations with utilization, including having friends and family with children, perceiving infertility stigma, and having a partner and/or family member who encourages treatment. Perceived need accounts for the largest portion of the variation in utilization. Enabling conditions explain less of the variance than social cues. Social cues should be especially important for discretionary health services utilization. Studies of service utilization for discretionary health conditions should explicitly incorporate a range of measures of social cues into their models.

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