Associations between socioeconomic position and asthma: findings from a historical cohort

Eur J Epidemiol. 2012 Aug;27(8):623-31. doi: 10.1007/s10654-012-9703-9. Epub 2012 Jun 14.


Understanding the association between asthma and socioeconomic position (SEP) is key to identify preventable exposures to prevent inequalities and lessen overall disease burden. We aim to assess the variation in asthma across SEP groups in a historical cohort before the rise in asthma prevalence. Male students participating in a health survey at Glasgow University from 1948 to 1968 (n = 11,274) completed medical history of bronchitis, asthma, hay fever, eczema/urticaria, and reported father's occupation. A subsample responded to postal follow-up in adulthood (n = 4,101) that collected data on respiratory diseases, early life and adult SEP. Lower father's occupational class was associated with higher odds of asthma only (asthma without eczema/urticaria or hay fever) (trend adjusted multinomial odds ratio (aMOR) = 1.23, 95 % CI 1.03-1.47) but with lower odds of asthma with atopy (asthma with eczema/urticaria or hay fever) (trend aMOR = 0.66, 95 % CI 0.52-0.83) and atopy alone (trend aMOR = 0.84, 95 % CI 0.75-0.93). Household amenities (<3), in early life was associated with higher odds of adult-onset asthma (onset > 30 years) (OR = 1.48, 95 % CI 1.07-2.05) though this association attenuated after adjusting for age. Adult SEP (household crowding, occupation, income and car ownership) was not associated with adult-onset asthma. Lower father's occupational class in early life was associated with higher odds of asthma alone but lower odds of asthma with atopy in a cohort that preceded the 1960s rise in asthma prevalence. Different environmental exposures and/or disease awareness may explain this opposed socioeconomic patterning, but it is important to highlight that such patterning was already present before rises in the prevalence of asthma and atopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Population Surveillance / methods
  • Prevalence
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Universities
  • Young Adult