The effects of a psychosocial dimension of socioeconomic position on survival: occupational prestige and mortality among US working adults


Sharon L. Christ, Child Development & Family Studies/Statistics, Purdue University, 101 Gates Road, West Lafayette, Indiana 47906, United States


The association between education or income and mortality has been explored in great detail. These measures capture both the effects of material disadvantage on health and the psychosocial impacts of a low socioeconomic position on health. When explored independently of educational attainment and income, occupational prestige – a purely perceptual measure – serves as a measure of the impact of a psychosocial phenomenon on health. For instance, a fire-fighter, academician or schoolteacher may carry the social benefits of a higher social status without actually having the income (in all cases) or the educational credentials (in the case of the fire-fighter) to match. We explored the independent influence of occupational prestige on mortality. We applied Cox proportional hazards models to a nationally representative sample of over 380,000 US workers who had worked at any time between 1986 and 1994 with mortality follow up through 2002. We found that occupational prestige is associated with a decrease in the risk of all-cause, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory-related mortality after controlling for household income and educational attainment. We further investigated the question of whether the effects of prestige are moderated by sex and broader occupational groupings. Prestige effects operate in white-collar occupations for men only and within service occupations for all workers.