Toward Improving Our Understanding of the Tie between Socio-Economic Status and Health

Other External Scholars:
Barbara Wolfe, University of Wisconsin
William N. Evans, University of Notre Dame
Teresa Seeman, University of California, Los Angeles
Project Date:
Nov 2007
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

The correlation between socio-economic status (SES) and health has been demonstrated for virtually all health indicators, including mortality, incidence of disease, cardiovascular risk factors, and a variety of biomarkers. But what explains this powerful link? With support from the Foundation, economists Barbara Wolfe and William Evans and biomedical researcher Teresa Seeman will assemble a multidisciplinary working group to address the pathways that forge connections between SES and health.


In previous research, economists have focused on causal relationships between SES and health by examining the health effects of economic policy changes, while biomedical researchers have largely concentrated on physiological pathways. Wolfe and her colleagues will combine both approaches in two groundbreaking studies. In the first project, a team made up of economists, biobehavioral researchers, and health psychologists will explore the relationship between SES and health among young adults between the ages of 20 and 40. The project will make use of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) – a dataset with extensive biomedical and socioeconomic information on over 5,000 young adults. Focusing on cardiovascular, psychological, and diabetes risk factors, the group will conduct statistical analyses to test for a causal connection between SES and health in both directions. The study will also examine how socioeconomic shocks – such as getting laid off or going on welfare – affect current and future health status.


In the second study, economists and pediatric neuropsychologists will explore the link between SES and children’s neural development. The team will track Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) indicators of brain development over time in relation to SES factors such as sustained poverty, parental unemployment, or marital breakup. The question is whether low SES children suffer deficits in neural development because they experience various kinds of environmental deprivation and whether brain development relates to cognitive and academic performance. The working group will meet in the spring of 2008 to discuss early progress and adjust research plans in light of preliminary results. At the end of two years, the group will reconvene to hold a conference presenting papers from both projects. The papers will appear in an RSF volume on social inequality and health.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.