Low socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with increased risk for adverse health outcomes; those with low SES are thought to experience greater environmental disadvantage and exposure to chronic stress over the life course. The effects of chronic stress on health have been measured by cortisol levels and variations in their diurnal pattern. However, the patterns of association between SES and cortisol have been equivocal in older adults. This paper examined in 98 older adults participating in the Brain Health Substudy of the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial baseline patterns of diurnal variation in salivary cortisol associated with lower versus higher SES using total income and perceived SES relative to others. For each measure, participants stratified into lower versus higher SES showed a more blunted rate of decline in diurnal salivary cortisol over the day in adjusted models (P values ≤ 0.05). There were no SES-related differences in awakening cortisol, cortisol-awakening response, or area under the curve. These findings confirm prior evidence of a biologic pathway through which socioeconomic disadvantage is linked to biologic vulnerability, and through which the impact of volunteer service in Experience Corps may be measured.
© 2011 New York Academy of Sciences.