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History of socioeconomic disadvantage and allostatic load in later life


  • Gruenewald, Tara L.
  • Karlamangla, Arun S.
  • Hu, Perry
  • Stein-Merkin, Sharon
  • Crandall, Carolyn
  • Koretz, Brandon
  • Seeman, Teresa E.


There is a growing interest in understanding how the experience of socioeconomic status (SES) adversity across the life course may accumulate to negatively affect the functioning of biological regulatory systems important to functioning and health in later adulthood. The goal of the present analyses was to examine whether greater life course SES adversity experience would be associated with higher scores on a multi-system allostatic load (AL) index of physiological function in adulthood. Data for these analyses are from 1008 participants (92.2% White) from the Biomarker Substudy of the Study of Midlife in the US (MIDUS). Multiple indicators of SES adversity in childhood (parent educational attainment, welfare status, financial situation) and two points in adulthood (educational attainment, household income, difficulty paying bills, availability of money to meet basic needs, current financial situation) were used to construct SES adversity measures for each life course phase. An AL score was constructed using information on 24 biomarkers from 7 different physiological systems (sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, cardiovascular, lipid metabolism, glucose metabolism, inflammatory immune activity). Analyses indicate higher AL as a function of greater SES adversity at each phase of, and cumulatively across, the life course. Associations were only moderately attenuated when accounting for a wide array of health status, behavioral and psychosocial factors. Findings suggest that SES adversity experience may cumulate across the life course to have a negative impact on multiple biological systems in adulthood. An important aim of future research is the replication of current findings in this predominantly White sample in more ethnically diverse populations.

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  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:74:y:2012:i:1:p:75-83
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.09.037

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gruenewald, Tara L. & Cohen, Sheldon & Matthews, Karen A. & Tracy, Russell & Seeman, Teresa E., 2009. "Association of socioeconomic status with inflammation markers in black and white men and women in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 451-459, August.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Haas, Steven, 2008. "Trajectories of functional health: The 'long arm' of childhood health and socioeconomic factors," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(4), pages 849-861, February.
    5. Geronimus, A.T. & Hicken, M. & Keene, D. & Bound, J., 2006. ""Weathering" and age patterns of allostatic load scores among blacks and whites in the United States," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 96(5), pages 826-833.
    6. Loucks, Eric B. & Pilote, Louise & Lynch, John W. & Richard, Hugues & Almeida, Nisha D. & Benjamin, Emelia J. & Murabito, Joanne M., 2010. "Life course socioeconomic position is associated with inflammatory markers: The Framingham Offspring Study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(1), pages 187-195, July.
    7. Baltrus, P.T. & Lynch, J.W. & Everson-Rose, S. & Raghunathan, T.E. & Kaplan, G.A., 2005. "Race/ethnicity, life-course socioeconomic position, and body weight trajectories over 34 years: The Alameda County Study," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 95(9), pages 1595-1601.
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    Cited by:

    1. Johnson, Sarah C. & Cavallaro, Francesca L. & Leon, David A., 2017. "A systematic review of allostatic load in relation to socioeconomic position: Poor fidelity and major inconsistencies in biomarkers employed," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 192(C), pages 66-73.
    2. repec:hal:journl:hal-01062282 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Walsemann, Katrina M. & Goosby, Bridget J. & Farr, Deeonna, 2016. "Life course SES and cardiovascular risk: Heterogeneity across race/ethnicity and gender," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 152(C), pages 147-155.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Elizabeth M. Lawrence & Elisabeth Root & Stefanie Mollborn, 2015. "Residential mobility in early childhood," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 33(32), pages 939-950.
    7. Edouard Nicod & Silvia Stringhini & Pedro Marques-Vidal & Fred Paccaud & Gérard Waeber & Karine Lamiraud & Peter Vollenweider & Muriel Bochud, 2014. "Association of education and receiving social transfers with allostatic load in the Swiss population-based CoLaus study," Working Papers hal-01062282, HAL.
    8. Xuejie Ding & Francesco C. Billari & Stuart Gietel-Basten, 2017. "Health of midlife and older adults in China: the role of regional economic development, inequality, and institutional setting," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 62(8), pages 857-867, November.
    9. Barboza Solís, Cristina & Fantin, Romain & Castagné, Raphaële & Lang, Thierry & Delpierre, Cyrille & Kelly-Irving, Michelle, 2016. "Mediating pathways between parental socio-economic position and allostatic load in mid-life: Findings from the 1958 British birth cohort," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 165(C), pages 19-27.
    10. Robinette, Jennifer W. & Charles, Susan T. & Gruenewald, Tara L., 2018. "Neighborhood cohesion, neighborhood disorder, and cardiometabolic risk," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 198(C), pages 70-76.
    11. Woods, Sarah B. & Priest, Jacob B. & Kuhn, Veronica & Signs, Tara, 2019. "Close relationships as a contributor to chronic pain pathogenesis: Predicting pain etiology and persistence," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 237(C), pages 1-1.
    12. Lee, Miaw-Chwen & Huang, Nicole, 2015. "Changes in self-perceived economic satisfaction and mortality at old ages: Evidence from a survey of middle-aged and elderly adults in Taiwan," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 1-8.
    13. Schwartz, Joseph A., 2017. "Long-term physical health consequences of perceived inequality: Results from a twin comparison design," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 187(C), pages 184-192.
    14. Berg, Mark T. & Simons, Ronald L. & Barr, Ashley & Beach, Steven R.H. & Philibert, Robert A., 2017. "Childhood/Adolescent stressors and allostatic load in adulthood: Support for a calibration model," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 193(C), pages 130-139.


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