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The Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities

The Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page

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p. 3-3


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p. 4-4


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pp. 5-6

List of Tables and Figures

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

...Barbara Wolfe is professor of economics, population health sciences, and public affairs and faculty affiliate at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison....

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pp. xiii-xx

...In 2001, the Russell Sage Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York began a research program designed to examine the implications of rising economic inequality in the United States. The initial program funded interdisciplinary working groups at a number of universities, representing...

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1. The SES and Health Gradient: A Brief Review of the Literature

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pp. 1-37

...Numerous studies have documented a positive gradient between socioeconomic 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...

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2. Promise of Biomarkers in Assessing and Predicting Health

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pp. 38-62

...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...

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3. Biological Imprints of Social Status: Socioeconomic Gradients in Biological Markers of Disease Risk

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pp. 63-102

...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...

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4. Dissecting Pathways for Socioeconomic Gradients in Childhood Asthma

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pp. 103-125

...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...

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5. Cardiovascular Consequences of Income Change

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pp. 126-157

...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...

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6. Cognitive Neuroscience and Disparities in Socioeconomic Status

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pp. 158-186

...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...

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7. Brain Development and Poverty: A First Look

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pp. 187-214

...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...

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8. Reversing the Impact of Disparities in Socioeconomic Status over the Life Course on Cognitive and Brain Aging

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pp. 215-247

...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...

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9. Conclusions

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pp. 248-262

...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 socioeconomic status (SES) and major health outcomes as well as the...


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pp. 263-272

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447935
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871548924

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012