Socioeconomic Status and Cardiovascular Responses to Standardized Stressors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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Abstract

Objective

Disparities in cardiovascular health by socioeconomic status (SES) are a pressing public health concern. Hypothesized mechanisms linking low SES to poor health are large cardiovascular responses to and delayed recovery from psychological stress. The current study presents a meta-analysis of the literature on the association of SES with blood pressure and heart rate reactivity to and recovery from acute stress tasks.

Methods

The PubMed database was searched, and 26 unique studies with relevant data were identified (k = 25 reactivity [n = 14,617], k = 6 recovery [n = 1,324]).

Results

Using random-effects models, no significant association between SES and cardiovascular reactivity to stress emerged (r = .008, 95% confidence interval = −.02 to .04), although higher SES was associated with better recovery from stress (r = −.14, 95% confidence interval −.23 to −.05). Stressor type moderated the reactivity effect, wherein higher SES was associated with greater reactivity to cognitive stressors (r = .036, p = .024), not with reactivity to interpersonal stressors (r = −.02, p = .62), but was associated with lower reactivity to tasks with combinations of cognitive, interpersonal, and physical challenges (r = −.12, p = .029). Accounting for publication bias revealed a significant association between SES and reactivity in the opposite direction of hypotheses.

Conclusions

Cardiovascular recovery from acute stress, but not reactivity to stress, may be a key pathway between low SES and risk for cardiovascular diseases. Heterogeneity in effect size and direction, challenges related to working across temporal dynamics, and recommendations for future research are discussed.

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