Background: Socioeconomic status (SES) is usually measured by determining education, income, occupation, or a composite of these dimensions. Although education is the most commonly used measure of SES in epidemiological studies, no investigators in the United States have conducted an empirical analysis quantifying the relative impact of each separate dimension of SES on risk factors for disease.
Methods: Using data on 2380 participants from the Stanford Five-City Project (85% White, non-Hispanic), we examined the independent contribution of education, income, and occupation to a set of cardiovascular disease risk factors (cigarette smoking, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and total and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol).
Results: The relationship between these SES measures and risk factors was strongest and most consistent for education, showing higher risk associated with lower levels of education. Using a forward selection model that allowed for inclusion of all three SES measures after adjustment for age and time of survey, education was the only measure that was significantly associated with the risk factors (P less than .05).
Conclusion: If economics or time dictate that a single parameter of SES be chosen and if the research hypothesis does not dictate otherwise, higher education may be the best SES predictor of good health.