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Socioeconomic status (SES), often conceptualized as income, education, or occupation, is associated with risk for disease morbidity and psychopathology. Recent research has focused on the potential biological mechanisms linking lower SES and poor outcomes; much of this work has examined the relationship between SES and markers of systemic inflammation. The strength of the estimated association between SES and inflammatory markers varies widely across individual studies. Thus, we used meta-analytic techniques to quantify the magnitude of this relationship. To accomplish this, PubMed and PsycINFO were searched for papers that reported on SES and two commonly measured systemic inflammatory markers, C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Peer-reviewed, empirical papers conducted in non-patient populations were included. Data from 43 papers (N = 111,156) reporting a total of 63 relevant effect sizes were included in analyses. SES, broadly defined, was significantly associated with both levels of CRP (Z = 0.12; 95% CI, 0.09-0.16) and IL-6 (Z = 0.15; 95% CI, 0.12-0.18); individuals with lower SES showed higher levels of systemic inflammation. Subanalyses demonstrated that studies operationalizing SES as either levels of income or educational attainment also found significant associations with both CRP and IL-6. Moderator analyses revealed that effect sizes varied based on sample characteristics and analysis approaches. Lower SES is associated with significantly elevated levels of inflammatory markers of disease risk. Thus, pro-inflammatory pathways are likely an important mechanism translating socioeconomic inequalities into mental and physical health disparities.


Keely A Muscatell, Samantha N Brosso, Kathryn L Humphreys. Socioeconomic status and inflammation: a meta-analysis. Molecular psychiatry. 2020 Sep;25(9):2189-2199

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PMID: 31628416

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