The Role of Psychological Characteristics in the Relation Between Socioeconomic Status and Perceived Health1


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    Preparation of this article was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Planning Initiative on Socioeconomic Status and Health, by a Senior Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH00721) to S. Cohen, and by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (HL44199) to G. A. Kaplan, and grants from the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Ministry of Education to J. T. Salonen.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sheldon Cohen, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. e-mail:


Separate analyses of United States and Finnish samples demonstrate a graded (almost linear) relation between socioeconomic status (SES) and risk of poor perceived health. In both studies, positive psychological factors (greater social support; less anger, depression, and perceived stress) and beneficial health practices (nonsmoking; drinking and exercising moderately) were associated with both higher levels of SES and better self-reported health. Psychological and health practice variables were both able to account for some of the SES and poor health gradient. However, contrary to expectations, these factors did not play a more important role in explaining decreased risk at the middle and highest levels of SES, and instead may be most important at lowest levels.