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Soc Sci Med. 2004 May;58(10):1985-97.

Cumulative biological risk and socio-economic differences in mortality: MacArthur studies of successful aging.

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Division of Geriatrics, Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, 10945 Le Conte Ave Suite 2339, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1687, USA.


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.

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