Sex Differences in Associations Between Subjective Social Status and C-Reactive Protein in Young Adults

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Abstract

Objective

In middle-aged and older samples, perceived subjective socioeconomic status (SSS) is a marker of social rank that is associated with elevated inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk independent of objective indicators of SES (oSES). Whether SSS is uniquely associated with elevated inflammation during young adulthood and whether these linkages differ by sex have not been studied using a nationally representative sample of young adults.

Methods

Data came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. At Wave IV, young adults aged mostly 24 to 32 years reported their SSS, oSES, and a range of covariates of both SES and elevated inflammation. Trained fieldworkers assessed medication use, body mass index, and waist circumference, and also collected bloodspots from which high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) was assayed. The sample size for the present analyses was n = 13,236.

Results

Descriptive and bivariate analyses revealed a graded association between SSS and hs-CRP (b = −0.072, standard error [SE] = 0.011, p < .001): as SSS declined, mean levels of hs-CRP increased. When oSES indicators were taken into account, this association was no longer significant in women (b = −0.013, SE = 0.019, p = .514). In men, a small but significant SSS–hs-CRP association remained after adjusting for oSES indicators and additional potential confounders of this association in the final models (b = −0.034, SE = 0.011 p = .003; p < .001 for the sex by SSS interaction).

Conclusions

SSS is independently associated with elevated inflammation in young adults. The associations were stronger in men than in women. These data suggest that subjective, global assessments of social rank might play a role in developing adverse health outcomes.

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