A new study from the University of Calgary finds that perceptions of socioeconomic status can have a significant effect on health, in that people who see themselves as being from a lower class status relative to others are at greater risk for health problems such as coronary artery disease, hypertension and diabetes.
The link between socioeconomic status and health has long been an established truth, as numerous studies have confirmed that people with lower income, lower education and of a lower class status are at higher risk for a list of health problems running the gamut from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorder, obesity and depression to having more bouts of the common cold, worse sleep and more pain after surgery.
Health-wise, if not otherwise, the deck seems stacked against the poor and uneducated. And the link between social status and health is not just a feature of the human condition -researchers have documented it in other primates like baboons and macaques, both of whom organize in very structured, linear hierarchies. It turns out that those nearer the bottom of the baboon and macaque pecking orders have higher lipid levels, cortisol levels, more coronary plaques and higher rates of obesity.
But how much of this relationship is based in the brute facts of having less money and less power and how much is the result of subjective impressions of one’s own social and economic status?
Studies have already hinted that subjective social social status (SSS) -an individual’s perception of his or her position in the social and economic hierarchy- affects health. For example, researchers have identified health differences between not just the rich and poor but also between the rich and the ‘almost-as-rich’, as when one study of British civil servants found lower risks for angina and narrowing of the arteries in administrators at the highest level of the bureaucracy when compared to those working at a slightly lower level.
In the current study, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of nine previous studies on socioeconomic health indicators and determined that SSS plays a significant role in determining health. Specifically, people with lower SSS are between 1.8 and 3.7 times more likely to have coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes as well as dyslipidaemia, the condition of having elevated levels of lipids in the blood which can lead to hardening of the arteries, heart attacks and stroke.
“The perception of where one stands on a social hierarchy is associated with health effects independent of a person’s actual objective income, education or occupation,” say the study’s authors. The authors suggest that health and social welfare advocates need to take note of the psychosocial consequences of lower class status and start taking steps to improve childhood education and income distribution so as to develop stronger bonds of social cohesion, social trust and cooperation and, ultimately, to narrow the socioeconomic gap between the haves and have-nots, effectively creating a more egalitarian society.
The study was published online in the journal BMJ Open.