January 2001

Grant Results


In 1999, the New York Academy of Sciences, New York, conducted a conference entitled, "Socioeconomic Status and Health in Industrial Nations: Social, Psychological, and Biological Pathways."

Research from several countries has shown clear and growing evidence that socioeconomic status is associated with health. No one socioeconomic indicator is key; a variety of indicators at the individual and social levels are associated with health status.

Individual indicators include income, education, and occupation; social indicators include neighborhood and community characteristics. It is well established that at each step along the socioeconomic status hierarchy, improvements in social status result in improved health; less is known about how this occurs.

The goals of this conference were to:

  • Examine the data on socioeconomic status and health.
  • Explore some of the biological pathways by which socioeconomic status may influence health.
  • Examine policies that could address the social and health inequalities associated with socioeconomic status.

Key Results

  • The conference, which was held May 10–12, 1999, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., was attended by 328 people, including neurobiologists, physicians, epidemiologists, psychologists, economists, educators, community activists, and approximately 100 professionals from the National Institutes of Health.

    The conference included five sessions with 21 presentations and two poster sessions with 80 posters.

    Sessions included:
    • An introduction to socioeconomic status and health.
    • The developmental influence of socioeconomic status across the life span.
    • The effects of the social environment, including the workplace and the community, and the effects of racism and discrimination.
    • The psychobiological and psychosocial pathways and mechanisms to disease.
    • Aspects of policy implications for health and research.
  • Several key conclusions emerged:
    • Early environments are important. Experiences early in life associated with the socioeconomic position of one's family can set the course for later life. Health behaviors and psychological responses that later play a role in health may be shaped by childhood experiences.
    • Work environments are strongly linked to health. There is compelling evidence that conditions in work environments are associated with the occupational component of socioeconomic status. These conditions include physical exposure to toxins and risk of injury, and the social environment, particularly low levels of control.
    • Individuals' experiences are embedded in a social context. A key context for ethnic minorities is a culture of racism. Institutional barriers and discrimination create added burdens that impair health. Communities with great income disparities also have poorer health.
    • Chronic, long-term stress causes changes in the body that lead to disease. The lower people are on the socioeconomic status hierarchy, the more likely they are to be exposed to chronic stress. Socioeconomic-related stress can, for example, affect the body through problems with sleeping and relaxing after work due to shift work and non-restful home environments. Low social status itself may be a stressor.
    • Researchers know a lot about possible mechanisms and pathways whereby socioeconomic status affects the body, but more interdisciplinary, multilevel research is needed on both specific pathways and mechanisms that take account of individual variation and the role of social contexts in this variation, and on the interactions in socioeconomic status among social, psychological, and biological mechanisms.
  • Conference proceedings were published in a special issue of Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. See the Bibliography for details.

After the Grant
The New York Academy of Sciences has no plans to follow-up this conference. The MacArthur Foundation is continuing work in this area.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided partial support for this conference with a grant of $40,000 between March 1999 and August 1999.

The conference was also supported by:

  • The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health ($30,000).
  • The National Institutes of Health's Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research ($10,000).
  • The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences ($10,000).

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Conference on Socioeconomic Determinants and Health


New York Academy of Sciences (New York,  NY)

  • Amount: $ 40,000
    Dates: March 1999 to August 1999
    ID#:  035885


Rashid Shaikh, Ph.D.
(212) 838-0230

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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Books and Reports

Alder N, McEwen B, Marmot M, and Stewart J (eds.). Proceedings of the Conference — "Socioeconomic Status and Health in Industrial Nations; Social, Psychological, and Biological Pathways." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. New York, N.Y.: New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 896: 503 pp., 1999.

Sponsored Conferences

"Socioeconomic Status and Health in Industrial Nations; Social, Psychological, and Biological Pathways," May 10–12, 1999, Bethesda, Md. 328 attendees, including neurobiologists, physicians, epidemiologists, psychologists, economists, educators, and activists; and approximately 100 professionals from the National Institutes of Health. Five sessions with 21 presentations and two poster sessions with 80 posters.


  • Nancy E. Adler, Ph.D., Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco, Calif., "SES and Health: What We Know and What We Don't Know."
  • Michael Marmot, M.D., International Centre for Health and Society, University College London, London, England, "Epidemiology of SES and Health: Are Determinants Within Countries the Same as Between Countries?"
  • Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, The Rockefeller University, New York, N.Y., "Protective and Damaging Effects of Mediators of Stress."
  • Richard G. Wilkinson, M.A., M.Med. Sci., Trafford Centre for Medical Research, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom, "Health and the Culture of Inequality."
  • Michael J. Meaney, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, Douglas Hospital Research Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, "Stress, Maternal Care and Infant Brain Development."
  • Clyde Hertzman, M.D., Department of Health Care and Epidemiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, "Childhood SES: The Biological Embedding of Early Experience and Its Effects on Health in Adulthood."
  • Burton Singer, Ph.D., Office of Population Research, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J., "Associating Stratification of Life Histories with Health Risks."
  • Ichiro Kawachi, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Health and Social Behavior, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, "Social Capital and Community Effects on Population and Individual Health."
  • Andrew Baum, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa., "SES and Health Effects of Exposure to Chronic Stress in Humans."
  • Jay R. Kaplan, Ph.D., Department of Pathology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C., "The Pathogenecity of Social Status and Its Neuroendocrine Mediation."
  • Ulf Lundberg, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden, "Stress Responses in Low Status Jobs Related to Health Risks."
  • David R. Williams, Ph.D., M.P.H., Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., "SES and Ethnicity: The Added Effects of Racism and Discrimination."
  • Marilyn A. Winkleby, Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif., "Pathways by Which SES Influences Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Ethnically Diverse Populations."
  • Shelley E. Taylor, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Calif., "Psychosocial Resources and the SES/Health Relationship."
  • Karen A. Mathews, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa., "Do Negative Emotions Mediate the Association Between Socioeconomic Status and Physical Health?"
  • Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., "Social Status and Susceptibility to Infection."
  • Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, "Neuroendocrine Pathways: SES and Stress Effects on Hormone Secretion, Metabolism and Sleep."
  • Thomas Pickering, M.D., D.Phil., Department of Medicine, The New York Hospital — Cornell Medical Center, New York, N.Y., "Cardiovascular Pathways: SES and Stress Effects on Hypertension and Cardiovascular Function."
  • Alvin R. Tarlov, M.D., The Health Institute, New England Medical Center, Boston, Mass., "A Public Policy Framework for Improving Health in the United States."
  • Phillip R. Lee, M.D., Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, Calif., "SES and Health: Policy Implications in Research, Public Health and Medical Care."
  • Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D., Office of Behavioral & Social Sciences Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., "Solving the Puzzle of SES & Health: The Need for Interdisciplinary Multilevel Research."

Print Coverage

"For Good Health, It Helps to be Rich and Important," in The New York Times, June 1, 1999.

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Report prepared by: Lori De Milto
Reviewed by: David Kales
Reviewed by: Janet Heroux
Program Officer: C. Tracy Orleans

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