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Cumulative biological risk and socio-economic differences in mortality: MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging


  • Seeman, Teresa E.
  • Crimmins, Eileen
  • Huang, Mei-Hua
  • Singer, Burton
  • Bucur, Alexander
  • Gruenewald, Tara
  • Berkman, Lisa F.
  • Reuben, David B.


Previous research has suggested that socio-economic status (SES) differences in mortality are only partially explained by differences in life-style, psychological and social factors. Seven year mortality data (1988-1995) from the MacArthur Study of Successful Aging, a longitudinal study of adults, aged 70-79, from New Haven, CT; East Boston, MA; and Durham, NC; were used to test the hypothesis that a cumulative measure of biological dysregulation ("allostatic load"), reflecting multiple regulatory systems, would serve as a further mediator of SES differences in mortality. Logistic regression analyses revealed that a cumulative index of biological risk explained 35.4% of the difference in mortality risk between those with higher versus lower SES (as measured by less than high school education versus high school or greater educational attainment). Importantly, the cumulative index provided independent explanatory power, over and above a measure of doctor-diagnosed disease, though the latter also contributed to education-related variation in mortality risks. The summary measure of biological risk also accounted for more variance than individual biological parameters, suggesting the potential value of a multi-systems view of biological pathways through which SES ultimately affects morbidity and mortality.

Suggested Citation

  • Seeman, Teresa E. & Crimmins, Eileen & Huang, Mei-Hua & Singer, Burton & Bucur, Alexander & Gruenewald, Tara & Berkman, Lisa F. & Reuben, David B., 2004. "Cumulative biological risk and socio-economic differences in mortality: MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(10), pages 1985-1997, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:58:y:2004:i:10:p:1985-1997

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    Cited by:

    1. Michaud, Pierre-Carl & Crimmins, Eileen M. & Hurd, Michael D., 2016. "The effect of job loss on health: Evidence from biomarkers," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 194-203.
    2. Glei, Dana A. & Goldman, Noreen & Shkolnikov, Vladimir M. & Jdanov, Dmitri & Shalnova, Svetlana & Shkolnikova, Maria & Weinstein, Maxine, 2013. "To what extent do biomarkers account for the large social disparities in health in Moscow?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 164-172.
    3. Todd, Megan A. & Shkolnikov, Vladimir M. & Goldman, Noreen, 2016. "Why are well-educated Muscovites more likely to survive? Understanding the biological pathways," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 157(C), pages 138-147.
    4. Turner, R. Jay & Thomas, Courtney S. & Brown, Tyson H., 2016. "Childhood adversity and adult health: Evaluating intervening mechanisms," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 114-124.
    5. Carrieri, V.; & Davillas, A.; & Jones, A.M.;, 2019. "A latent class approach to inequity in health using biomarker data," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 19/22, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
    6. Eileen M. Crimmins & Sarinnapha Vasunilashorn & Jung Ki Kim & Aaron Hagedorn & Yasuhiko Saito, 2008. "A Comparison of Biological Risk Factors in Two Populations: The United States and Japan," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 34(3), pages 457-482, September.
    7. Gruenewald, Tara L. & Karlamangla, Arun S. & Hu, Perry & Stein-Merkin, Sharon & Crandall, Carolyn & Koretz, Brandon & Seeman, Teresa E., 2012. "History of socioeconomic disadvantage and allostatic load in later life," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(1), pages 75-83.
    8. Jeffrey T. Howard & P. Johnelle Sparks, 2016. "The Effects of Allostatic Load on Racial/Ethnic Mortality Differences in the United States," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 35(4), pages 421-443, August.
    9. repec:zbw:espost:200121 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Mattei, Josiemer & Demissie, Serkalem & Falcon, Luis M. & Ordovas, Jose M. & Tucker, Katherine, 2010. "Allostatic load is associated with chronic conditions in the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(12), pages 1988-1996, June.
    11. Dana A. Glei & Noreen Goldman & Germán Rodríguez & Maxine Weinstein, 2014. "Beyond Self-Reports: Changes in Biomarkers as Predictors of Mortality," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 40(2), pages 331-360, June.
    12. Seeman, Melvin & Stein Merkin, Sharon & Karlamangla, Arun & Koretz, Brandon & Seeman, Teresa, 2014. "Social status and biological dysregulation: The “status syndrome” and allostatic load," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 143-151.
    13. Groffen, Daniëlle A.I. & Bosma, Hans & Koster, Annemarie & von Bonsdorff, Mikaela B. & Aspelund, Thor & Eiriksdottir, Gudny & Penninx, Brenda W.J.H. & Kempen, Gertrudis I.J.M. & Kirschbaum, Clemens & , 2015. "A blunted diurnal cortisol response in the lower educated does not explain educational differences in coronary heart disease: Findings from the AGES-Reykjavik Study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 143-149.
    14. Priest, Jacob B. & Woods, Sarah B. & Maier, Candice A. & Parker, Elizabeth Oshrin & Benoit, Jenna A. & Roush, Tara R., 2015. "The Biobehavioral Family Model: Close relationships and allostatic load," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 232-240.
    15. repec:dem:demres:v:38:y:2018:i:62 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Vie, Tina Løkke & Hufthammer, Karl Ove & Holmen, Turid Lingaas & Meland, Eivind & Breidablik, Hans Johan, 2014. "Is self-rated health a stable and predictive factor for allostatic load in early adulthood? Findings from the Nord Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT)," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 1-9.
    17. Seeman, Teresa & Merkin, Sharon S. & Crimmins, Eileen & Koretz, Brandon & Charette, Susan & Karlamangla, Arun, 2008. "Education, income and ethnic differences in cumulative biological risk profiles in a national sample of US adults: NHANES III (1988-1994)," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(1), pages 72-87, January.
    18. Szanton, Sarah L. & Thorpe, Roland J. & Whitfield, Keith, 2010. "Life-course financial strain and health in African-Americans," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 259-265, July.
    19. Link, Bruce G. & Susser, Ezra S. & Factor-Litvak, Pam & March, Dana & Kezios, Katrina L. & Lovasi, Gina S. & Rundle, Andrew G. & Suglia, Shakira F. & Fader, Kim M. & Andrews, Howard F. & Johnson, Eile, 2017. "Disparities in self-rated health across generations and through the life course," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 174(C), pages 17-25.
    20. Arévalo, Sandra P. & Tucker, Katherine L. & Falcón, Luis M., 2014. "Life events trajectories, allostatic load, and the moderating role of age at arrival from Puerto Rico to the US mainland," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 301-310.
    21. Lipowicz, Anna & Szklarska, Alicja & Mitas, Andrzej W., 2016. "Biological costs of economic transition: Stress levels during the transition from communism to capitalism in Poland," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 21(C), pages 90-99.
    22. Goldman, Noreen & Turra, Cassio M. & Rosero-Bixby, Luis & Weir, David & Crimmins, Eileen, 2011. "Do biological measures mediate the relationship between education and health: A comparative study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 307-315, January.


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