Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities, The

Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities, The

Barbara Wolfe
William Evans
Teresa E. Seeman
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 292
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities, The
    Book Description:

    Social scientists have repeatedly uncovered a disturbing feature of economic inequality: people with larger incomes and better education tend to lead longer, healthier lives. This pattern holds across all ages and for virtually all measures of health, apparently indicating a biological dimension of inequality. But scholars have only begun to understand the complex mechanisms that drive this disparity. How exactly do financial well-being and human physiology interact? The Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities incorporates insights from the social and biological sciences to quantify the biology of disadvantage and to assess how poverty gets under the skin to impact health. Drawing from unusually rich datasets of biomarkers, brain scans and socioeconomic measures, Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities illustrates exciting new paths to understanding social inequalities in health. Barbara Wolfe, William Evans and Nancy Adler begin the volume with a critical evaluation of the literature on income and health, providing a lucid review of the difficulties of establishing clear causal pathways between the two variables. Arun S. Karlamangla, Tara L. Gruenewald, and Teresa E. Seeman outline the potential of biomarkers—such as cholesterol, heart pressure and C-reactive protein—to assess and indicate the factors underlying health. Edith Chen, Hanna M. C. Schreier, and Meanne Chan reveal the empirical power of biomarkers by examining asthma, a condition steeply correlated with socioeconomic status. Their analysis shows how stress at the individual, family, and neighborhood levels can increase the incidence of asthma. The volume then turns to cognitive neuroscience, using biomarkers in a new way to examine the impact of poverty on brain development. Jamie Hanson, Nicole Hair, Amitabh Chandra, Ed Moss, Jay Bhattacharya, Seth Pollack, and Barbara Wolfe use a longitudinal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) study of children between the ages of four and eighteen to study the link between poverty and limited cognition among children. Michelle C. Carlson, Christopher L. Seplaki, and Teresa E. Seeman also focus on brain development to examine the role of socioeconomic status in cognitive decline among older adults. The authors report promising results from programs designed to improve cognitive function among the elderly poor by increasing physical activity and social engagement. Featuring insights from the biological and social sciences, Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities will be an essential resource for scholars interested in socioeconomic disparities and the biological imprint that material deprivation leaves on the human body.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-793-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  6. Chapter 1 The SES and Health Gradient: A Brief Review of the Literature
    (pp. 1-37)
    William Evans, Barbara Wolfe and Nancy Adler

    Numerous studies have documented a positive gradient between socio-economic status (SES) and health—the better off individuals are, the better their health. The positive relationship between good health and higher SES is generally accepted, but until we understand both the nature of the relationship and what explains the link, policy may be ineffective in substantially reducing disparities across groups.

    The graded association between various indicators of SES and health holds across all ages and for all countries in which it has been studied. The gradient emerges in relation to a range of health indicators, including mortality, morbidity, measures of general...

  7. Chapter 2 Promise of Biomarkers in Assessing and Predicting Health
    (pp. 38-62)
    Arun S. Karlamangla, Tara L. Gruenewald and Teresa E. Seeman

    This chapter is designed to provide an overview of biomarkers known to play significant roles in health and well-being. The goal is to supply readers only somewhat familiar with biomarkers with a general roadmap, highlighting major biomarkers that have been the focus of significant research interest and indicating why they are of interest in terms of their roles in various major health outcomes. Thus, this chapter serves as a prelude to chapter 3, which builds on this introduction to provide an overview of evidence for socioeconomic gradients in biomarkers.

    Recognition is growing in both the clinical and research communities of...

  8. Chapter 3 Biological Imprints of Social Status: Socioeconomic Gradients in Biological Markers of Disease Risk
    (pp. 63-102)
    Tara L. Gruenewald, Teresa E. Seeman, Arun S. Karlamangla, Elliot Friedman and William Evans

    Consistently observed socioeconomic status (SES) gradients in disease and mortality risk have led to a search for biological pathways through which social status gets “under the skin” to affect functioning and health. The premise underlying such efforts is that variations in social status and status-patterned exposures, experiences, cognitive-emotional processes, and behaviors are transduced into electrochemical and biochemical signals in the body that lead to variations in biological functioning and subsequent disease risk. This chapter offers an overview of the growing body of evidence linking socioeconomic status to biological pathways through which SES is hypothesized to affect major health outcomes long...

  9. Chapter 4 Dissecting Pathways for Socioeconomic Gradients in Childhood Asthma
    (pp. 103-125)
    Edith Chen, Hannah M.C. Schreier and Meanne Chan

    The goal of this chapter is to describe a program of research on socioeconomic status (SES) and childhood asthma as a specific, in-depth illustration of an integrated biological and psychosocial approach to establishing the mechanisms underlying SES and health relationships. Beginning with an established clinical phenomenon—that is, the link between low SES and asthma morbidity—we focus on the importance of understanding the basic pathophysiology of a disease to determine which steps in the disease process are plausibly altered by social factors. Researchers will be able to develop a more accurate understanding of why health disparities are so pervasive...

  10. Chapter 5 Cardiovascular Consequences of Income Change
    (pp. 126-157)
    David H. Rehkopf, William H. Dow, Tara L. Gruenewald, Arun S. Karlamangla, Catarina Kiefe and Teresa E. Seeman

    Chapter 1 of this book outlines the basic statistical relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and health. The chapter demonstrates that the link is persistent across various measures of SES and health and for a large number of demographic groups, despite variation in the magnitude of association with different health outcomes (Krieger et al. 2005). In the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century, the strongest association between an individual’s SES and a leading cause of chronic disease mortality was with cardiovascular disease (Kaplan and Keil 1993; Wong et al. 2002). This is particularly true for studies that...

  11. Chapter 6 Cognitive Neuroscience and Disparities in Socioeconomic Status
    (pp. 158-186)
    Jamie Hanson and Daniel A. Hackman

    The advent and increased use of biomarkers in the study of health disparities across the socioeconomic gradient has provided initial insights into how environmental hardship and stress may affect physiology. Techniques such as cortisol and plasma sampling have provided clues to the causal mechanisms of socioeconomic status (SES) gradients. In the past few years, cognitive neuroscience approaches have been added to the toolbox available for understanding and addressing socioeconomic disparities in cognitive, socioemotional, and physical development. Such approaches may use behavioral measures motivated by an understanding of the brain or involve physiological measurements using electroencephalography (EEG) or magnetic resonance imaging...

  12. Chapter 7 Brain Development and Poverty: A First Look
    (pp. 187-214)
    Jamie Hanson, Nicole Hair, Amitabh Chandra, Ed Moss, Jay Bhattacharya, Seth D. Pollak and Barbara Wolfe

    As noted in chapter 1, although the tie between socioeconomic status (SES) and health is well established, the question of how SES influences health remains largely unanswered. Numerous studies focused on children have been based on the assumption that low income causes poor health rather than that poor health causes low SES. We follow this approach here, using what is known about particular regions of the brain (see chapter 6), and see whether these regions appear to differ among children by SES status. We also ask whether the SES relationship increases as a child ages based on both cross-sectional data...

  13. Chapter 8 Reversing the Impact of Disparities in Socioeconomic Status over the Life Course on Cognitive and Brain Aging
    (pp. 215-247)
    Michelle C. Carlson, Christopher L. Seplaki and Teresa E. Seeman

    A large body of work, including that reported in chapter 5, has proven education to be an important predictor of individual differences in cognitive aging and risk for dementia, with fewer years of education and lower quality being associated with poorer cognition in later life (Aiken Morgan, Sims, and Whitfield 2010; Barnes and Yaffe 2011; Manly et al. 2002; Stern 2009). However, this association is not consistently observed (Van Dijk et al. 2008) and may not as strongly predict rates of cognitive decline with age (Wilson et al. 2009). Here, we consider how another socially mediated factor in the life...

  14. Chapter 9 Conclusions
    (pp. 248-262)
    William Evans, Teresa E. Seeman and Barbara Wolfe

    The work presented here is the product of a Russell Sage Foundation initiative that brought together an interdisciplinary team of social and biological scientists to investigate more fully both the pathways linking sociioeconomic status (SES) and major health outcomes as well as the patterning of this relationship across the life course. The impetus for this work was the persistent and troubling evidence of a graded relationship between SES and health—with those of lower SES burdened at nearly all ages with poorer health status as indexed by a wide variety of measures from cognitive ability to biological risk profiles, diagnosed...

  15. Index
    (pp. 263-272)