Background: Important controversies exist about the extent to which people's health status as adults is shaped by their living conditions in early life compared to adulthood. These debates have important policy implications, and one obstacle to resolving them is the relative lack of sufficient high-quality data on childhood and adult socioeconomic position and adult health status. We accordingly compared the health status among monozygotic and dizygotic women twin pairs who lived together through childhood (until at least age 14) and subsequently were discordant or concordant on adult socioeconomic position. This comparison permitted us to ascertain the additional impact of adult experiences on adult health in a population matched on early life experiences.
Methods and findings: Our study employed data from a cross-sectional survey and physical examinations of twins in a population-based twin registry, the Kaiser Permanente Women Twins Study Examination II, conducted in 1989 to 1990 in Oakland, California, United States. The study population was composed of 308 women twin pairs (58% monozygotic, 42% dizygotic); data were obtained on childhood and adult socioeconomic position and on blood pressure, cholesterol, post-load glucose, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, physical activity, and self-rated health. Health outcomes among adult women twin pairs who lived together through childhood varied by their subsequent adult occupational class. Cardiovascular factors overall differed more among monozygotic twin pairs that were discordant compared to concordant on occupational class. Moreover, among the monozygotic twins discordant on adult occupational class, the working class twin fared worse and, compared to her professional twin, on average had significantly higher systolic blood pressure (mean matched difference = 4.54 mm Hg; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.10-8.97), diastolic blood pressure (mean matched difference = 3.80 mm Hg; 95% CI, 0.44-7.17), and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (mean matched difference = 7.82 mg/dl; 95% CI, 1.07-14.57). By contrast, no such differences were evident for analyses based on educational attainment, which does not capture post-education socioeconomic position.
Conclusion: These results provide novel evidence that lifetime socioeconomic position influences adult health and highlight the utility of studying social plus biological aspects of twinship.