Socioeconomic status and health: youth development and neomaterialist and psychosocial mechanisms

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Jan;66(1):31-42. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.07.018. Epub 2007 Sep 14.


There is substantial debate in the field of epidemiology over the theoretical underpinnings of socioeconomic status (SES)-disease mechanisms in the developed world. In particular, it has been debated whether psychosocial mechanisms are important in understanding these relationships, compared with material influences. Within an interdisciplinary context, this review synthesizes the youth development and resilience literatures in examination of this hypothesis. This review provides evidence that both classes of mechanisms are critical to understanding and addressing SES-disease mechanisms over the lifecourse. Research findings demonstrating the effects of these classes of factors point to the complicated and dynamic nature of how SES may impact disease. In the epidemiologic literature, investigators predominantly consider the cumulative impact of biological insults over time. A developmental perspective, however, provides evidence of the importance of psychosocial influences early in life on socioeconomic and health trajectories over the lifecourse. Future epidemiologic research should consider cumulative and developmental influences of early adversity--both psychosocial and material--on later health. This perspective may be particularly relevant to appropriately evaluating the impact of selection and causation in research on SES and disease and will also hopefully provide clarity to this ongoing theoretical debate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease / economics*
  • Disease / psychology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Psychology
  • Psychosocial Deprivation
  • Social Class*
  • Social Environment