Psychological perspectives on pathways linking socioeconomic status and physical health

Annu Rev Psychol. 2011:62:501-30. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.031809.130711.


Low socioeconomic status (SES) is a reliable correlate of poor physical health. Rather than treat SES as a covariate, health psychology has increasingly focused on the psychobiological pathways that inform understanding why SES is related to physical health. This review assesses the status of research that has examined stress and its associated distress, and social and personal resources as pathways. It highlights work on biomarkers and biological pathways related to SES that can serve as intermediate outcomes in future studies. Recent emphasis on the accumulation of psychobiological risks across the life course is summarized and represents an important direction for future research. Studies that test pathways from SES to candidate psychosocial pathways to health outcomes are few in number but promising. Future research should test integrated models rather than taking piecemeal approaches to evidence. Much work remains to be done, but the questions are of great health significance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emotions
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Social Class*
  • Social Environment
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*