Socioeconomic Status and Health: Dimensions and Mechanisms
This paper reviews the evidence on the well-known positive association between socioeconomic status and health. We focus on four dimensions of socioeconomic status -- education, financial resources, rank, and race and ethnicity -- paying particular attention to how the mechanisms linking health to each of these dimensions diverge and coincide. The extent to which socioeconomic advantage causes good health varies, both across these four dimensions and across the phases of the lifecycle. Circumstances in early life play a crucial role in determining the co-evolution of socioeconomic status and health throughout adulthood. In adulthood, a considerable part of the association runs from health to socioeconomic status, at least in the case of wealth. The diversity of pathways casts doubt upon theories that treat socioeconomic status as a unified concept.
We thank Sherry Glied and Peter Smith for comments. This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation GRFP and the National Institutes on Aging. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.