Background: African American men in the USA experience poorer aging-related health outcomes compared to their White counterparts, partially due to socioeconomic disparities along racial lines. Greater exposure to socioeconomic strains among African American men may adversely impact health and aging at the cellular level, as indexed by shorter leukocyte telomere length (LTL). This study examined associations between socioeconomic factors and LTL among African American men in midlife, a life course stage when heterogeneity in both health and socioeconomic status are particularly pronounced.
Methods: Using multinomial logistic regression, we examined associations between multiple measures of SES and tertiles of LTL in a sample of 92 African American men between 30 to 50 years of age.
Results: Reports of greater financial strain were associated with higher odds of short versus medium LTL (odds ratio (OR)=2.21, p = 0.03). Higher income was associated with lower odds of short versus medium telomeres (OR=0.97, p = 0.04). Exploratory analyses revealed a significant interaction between educational attainment and employment status (χ 2 = 4.07, p = 0.04), with greater education associated with lower odds of short versus long telomeres only among those not employed (OR=0.10, p = 0.040).
Conclusion: Cellular aging associated with multiple dimensions of socioeconomic adversity may contribute to poor aging-related health outcomes among African American men. Subjective appraisal of financial difficulty may impact LTL independently of objective dimensions of SES. Self-appraised success in fulfilling traditionally masculine gender roles, including being an economic provider, may be a particularly salient aspect of identity for African American men and have implications for cellular aging in this population.
Keywords: African American men; Financial strain; Socioeconomic status; Telomere length.