Hierarchies of life histories and associated health risks

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999;896:96-115. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb08108.x.


Widely documented inverse associations between socioeconomic standing and incident chronic disease and mortality invite explanation in terms of pathways to these outcomes. Empirical identification of pathways, or histories, requires measures that assess cumulative wear and tear on physiological systems following from psychosocial adversity and genetic predispositions. Such an assessment, allostatic load, has been shown to predict later life mortality, incident cardiovascular disease, and decline in physical and cognitive functioning. Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), we seek precursors to allostatic load via ordered categories of cumulative adversity relative to advantage over the life course. We operationalize these histories via unfolding economic circumstances and social relationship experiences (e.g., parent-child interactions, quality of spousal ties). Findings reveal a strong direct association between the extent of adversity relative to advantage in an ordering of these histories and likelihood of high allostatic load. Importantly, resilient individuals with economic disadvantage, but compensating positive social relationship histories also show low prevalence of high allostatic load.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Life Change Events*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Social Class*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Wisconsin / epidemiology