Consistent effects of high socioeconomic status and low birth order, and the modifying effect of maternal smoking on the risk of allergic disease during childhood

Respir Med. 1998 Oct;92(10):1237-44. doi: 10.1016/s0954-6111(98)90427-9.


Birth order, maternal age, gestational age, birth weight, maternal smoking, and social class have all been associated with allergic rhinitis, eczema and asthma in childhood, but the consistency of independent effects of these exposures in relation to all of these allergic conditions has not been investigated. We have compared and contrasted the independent effects of these putative risk factors on parent-reported hayfever, eczema and wheeze by age 16 years and in the past 12 months at age 16 using data from the 1970 British birth cohort. The 1970 British birth cohort comprised all children born in England, Scotland and Wales in one week of April 1970, and follow-up surveys at birth, 5, 10 and 16 years of age involved a cumulative total of 17,427 children. We have used data on over 6000 children with complete data at every stage. Social advantage was a risk factor common to each of wheeze at, and hayfever and eczema at and by age 16. Low birth order was an independent risk factor for eczema and hayfever at age 16, but not for wheeze. However, wheeze at age 16 was significantly increased in relation to maternal smoking, with a significant interaction such that the effect of smoking was greatest in those of high birth order and, in the absence of maternal smoking, low birth order was a risk factor for wheeze at age 16. Social advantage and low birth order appear to be the independently consistent determinants of atopic disease. Maternal smoking is an additional risk factor for wheeze, which applies primarily in low socioeconomic groups.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Birth Order*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / etiology*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Respiratory Sounds
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / etiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*
  • United Kingdom


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution