Socioeconomic status differences in vulnerability to undesirable life events

J Health Soc Behav. 1990 Jun;31(2):162-72.


Previous research has documented consistently that persons holding low-socioeconomic status (SES) positions are more strongly affected emotionally by undesirable life events than are their higher-status counterparts. Two types of resources have been implicated in this differential vulnerability: financial resources and a broader class of coping resources, including social support and resilient personality characteristics. We present an analysis that disaggregates measure of life events and of SES to identify which events and which components of SES are most important for understanding differential vulnerability. We document that the lower-SES vulnerability persists across all types of personal events. In addition, we find that differential vulnerability is not confined to income but extends to education and occupational status as well. On the basis of these patterns, we conclude that differential vulnerability reflects more than a simple economic reality. Previous research offers speculative evidence that status differences in past and current social environments may explain differential vulnerability, especially through their effects on the socialization of resilient personality characteristics. We propose future research that could help to evaluate the validity of these speculations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Social Class*
  • Social Support