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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2018 Mar 2;73(3):468-476. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbw080.

Socioeconomic Status, Race/Ethnicity, and Diurnal Cortisol Trajectories in Middle-Aged and Older Adults.

Author information

1
Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore Maryland.
2
Department of Acute and Chronic Care, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Baltimore, Maryland.
3
Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health, Baltimore, Maryland.
4
Department of Environmental Health Sciences.
5
Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.
6
Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Disparities Solutions, Baltimore, Maryland.

Abstract

Objectives:

Slow afternoon cortisol decline may be a marker of aging. We hypothesize that lower socioeconomic status (SES) and African American race are associated with lower waking cortisol and slower afternoon decline.

Method:

Six salivary cortisol samples, collected within a 24-hr period from 566 cohort participants aged 56-78 years, were examined in random-effects models. SES measures included socioeconomic vulnerability (household income and assets <500% of poverty) and education (≥college, some college, and ≤high school). African Americans were compared with all others.

Results:

Adjusting for age and sex, intermediate, but not low, education was associated with approximately 17% lower average waking cortisol and 1% slower decline, compared with high education. Socioeconomic vulnerability was not associated with waking cortisol or linear decline. Accounting for African American race/ethnicity, socioeconomic vulnerability was associated with a 3% faster decline, and education was not associated with cortisol. African Americans had 26% lower average waking cortisol and 1% slower decline than others.

Discussion:

African American race/ethnicity, but not lower SES, was associated with lower waking cortisol and slower afternoon decline in middle-aged and older adults. This pattern is likely a marker of earlier biological aging in vulnerable groups. Race/ethnicity may compete with SES as a measure of cumulative vulnerability.

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