Background: Measures of low socioeconomic position have been associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) among women. A more complete understanding of this association is gained when socioeconomic position is conceptualized from a life course perspective where socioeconomic position is measured both in early and later life. We examined various life course socioeconomic indicators in relation to CHD risk among women.
Methods: The Stockholm Female Coronary Risk Study is a population-based case-control study, in which 292 women with CHD aged < or =65 years and 292 age-matched controls were investigated using a wide range of socioeconomic, behavioural, psychosocial and physiological risk factors. Socioeconomic disadvantage in early life (large family size in childhood, being born last, low education), and in later life (housewife or blue-collar occupation at labour force entry, blue-collar occupation at examination, economic hardships prior to examination) was assessed.
Results: Exposure to early (OR = 2.65, 95% CI : 1.12-6.54) or later (OR = 5.38, 95% CI : 2.01-11.43) life socioeconomic disadvantage was associated with increased CHD risk as compared to not being exposed. After simultaneous adjustment for marital status and traditional CHD risk factors, early and later socioeconomic disadvantage, exposure to three instances of socioeconomic disadvantage in early life was associated with an increased CHD risk of 2.48 (95% CI : 0.90-6.83) as compared to not being exposed to any disadvantage. The corresponding adjusted risk associated with exposure to later life disadvantage was 3.22 (95% CI : 1.02-10.53). Further analyses did not show statistical evidence of interaction effects between early and later life exposures (P = 0.12), although being exposed to both resulted in a 4.2-fold (95% CI : 1.4-12.1) increased CHD risk. Exposure to cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage (combining both early and later life), across all stages in the life course showed strong, graded associations with CHD risk after adjusting for traditional CHD risk factors. Stratification of cumulative disadvantage by body height showed that exposure to more than three periods of cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage had a 1.7- (95% CI : 0.9-3.2) and 1.9- (95% CI : 1.0-7.7) fold increased CHD risk for taller and shorter women, respectively. The combination of both short stature and more than two periods of cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage resulted in a 4.4-fold (95% CI : 1.7-9.3) increased CHD risk.
Conclusions: Both early and later exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage were associated with increased CHD risk in women. Later life exposure seems to be more harmful for women's cardiovascular health than early life exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage. However, being exposed to socioeconomic disadvantage in both early and later life magnified the risk for CHD in women. Cumulative exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage resulted in greater likelihood of CHD risk, even among women who were above median height. In terms of better understanding health inequalities among women, measures of socioeconomic disadvantage over the life course are both conceptually and empirically superior to using socioeconomic indicators from one point in time.