Personality, socioeconomic status, and all-cause mortality in the United States

Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Jan 1;171(1):83-92. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp323. Epub 2009 Dec 4.


The authors assessed the extent to which socioeconomic status (SES) and the personality factors termed the "big 5" (neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness) represented confounded or independent risks for all-cause mortality over a 10-year follow-up in the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) cohort between 1995 and 2004. Adjusted for demographics, the 25th versus 75th percentile of SES was associated with an odds ratio of 1.43 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.11, 1.83). Demographic-adjusted odds ratios for the 75th versus 25th percentile of neuroticism were 1.38 (95% CI: 1.10, 1.73) and 0.63 (95% CI: 0.47, 0.84) for conscientiousness, the latter evaluated at high levels of agreeableness. Modest associations were observed between SES and the big 5. Adjusting each for the other revealed that personality explained roughly 20% of the SES gradient in mortality, while SES explained 8% of personality risk. Portions of SES and personality risk were explained by health behaviors, although some residual risk remained unexplained. Personality appears to explain some between-SES strata differences in mortality risk, as well as some individual risk heterogeneity within SES strata. Findings suggest that both sociostructural inequalities and individual disposition hold public health implications. Future research and prevention aimed at ameliorating SES health disparities may benefit from considering the risk clustering of social disadvantage and dispositional factors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Concept Formation
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Personality Tests
  • Personality*
  • Poverty / economics
  • Psychometrics
  • Social Class*
  • United States / epidemiology