Does self-rated health mean the same thing across socioeconomic groups? Evidence from biomarker data

Ann Epidemiol. 2010 Oct;20(10):743-9. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2010.06.007.


Purpose: Self-rated health (SRH) is widely used to study health inequalities by socioeconomic status (SES), but concern has arisen that SRH may not correspond to objective health in the same way for different SES groups. We test whether levels of biological risk differ by SES for those with the same SRH.

Methods: We analyzed a U.S. nationally representative sample of 13,877 adults aged 25 to 80 years. We tested whether education modifies the association between SRH and 14 biomarkers representing metabolic, cardiovascular, inflammatory, and organ function using both interaction models and models stratified by four levels of SRH. Estimated education coefficients in the stratified models indicated whether biomarker levels varied by educational attainment within a given self-rated health category.

Results: Significant variation in biological risk by education within the same self-rated health category was found, especially at higher levels of SRH. In general, respondents with more education had healthier levels of biomarkers for the same level of SRH.

Conclusions: The results suggest that the relation of self-reported health to objective health, as measured by biological risk factors, differs by socioeconomic status. Caution should be exercised when using SRH to compare health risks across SES groups.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Class*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers