Objective and subjective socioeconomic status and susceptibility to the common cold

Health Psychol. 2008 Mar;27(2):268-74. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.2.268.


Objective: We ask whether subjective socioeconomic status (SES) predicts who develops a common cold when exposed to a cold virus.

Design: 193 healthy men and women ages 21-55 years were assessed for subjective (perceived rank) and objective SES, cognitive, affective and social dispositions, and health practices. Subsequently, they were exposed by nasal drops to a rhinovirus or influenza virus and monitored in quarantine for objective signs of illness and self-reported symptoms.

Main outcome measures: Infection, signs and symptoms of the common cold, and clinical illness (infection and significant objective signs of illness).

Results: Increased subjective SES was associated with decreased risk for developing a cold for both viruses. This association was independent of objective SES and of cognitive, affective and social disposition that might provide alternative spurious (third factor) explanations for the association. Poorer sleep among those with lesser subjective SES may partly mediate the association between subjective SES and colds.

Conclusions: Increased Subjective SES is associated with less susceptibility to upper respiratory infection, and this association is independent of objective SES, suggesting the importance of perceived relative rank to health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Common Cold / immunology
  • Common Cold / psychology*
  • Culture*
  • Disease Susceptibility / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rhinovirus / immunology
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class
  • Socioeconomic Factors*


  • Antibodies, Viral