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Do biological measures mediate the relationship between education and health: A comparative study

Publication Abstract

Goldman, Noreen, Cassio M. Turra, Luis Rosero-Bixby, David Weir, and Eileen Crimmins. 2011. "Do biological measures mediate the relationship between education and health: A comparative study." Social Science & Medicine, 72(2): 307-315.

Despite a myriad of studies examining the relationship between socioeconomic status and health outcomes, few have assessed the extent to which biological markers of chronic disease account for social disparities in health. Studies that have examined this issue have generally been based on surveys in wealthy countries that include a small set of clinical markers of cardiovascular disease. The availability of recent data from nationally representative surveys of older adults in Costa Rica and Taiwan that collected a rich set of biomarkers comparable to those in a recent US survey permits us to explore these associations across diverse populations. Similar regression models were estimated on three data sets the Social Environment and Biomarkers of Aging Study in Taiwan, the Costa Rican Study on Longevity and Healthy Aging, and the Health and Retirement Study in the USA in order to assess (1) the strength of the associations between educational attainment and a broad range of biomarkers; and (2) the extent to which these biomarkers account for the relationships between education and two measures of health status (self-rated health, functional limitations) in older populations. The estimates suggest non-systematic and weak associations between education and high risk biomarker values in Taiwan and Costa Rica, in contrast to generally negative and significant associations in the US, especially among women. The results also reveal negligible or modest contributions of the biomarkers to educational disparities in the health outcomes. The findings are generally consistent with previous research suggesting stronger associations between socioeconomic status and health in wealthy countries than in middle-income countries and may reflect higher levels of social stratification in the US. With access to an increasing number of longitudinal biosocial surveys, researchers may be better able to distinguish true variations in the relationship between socioeconomic status and health across different settings from methodological differences.

DOI:10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.11.004 (Full Text)

PMCID: PMC3039215. (Pub Med Central)

Countries of focus: Costa Rica, Taiwan, United States.

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