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Keywords:

  • health disparities;
  • gradient;
  • mechanism;
  • pathways;
  • stress

Over the past two decades, exponential growth of empirical research has fueled markedly increased concern about health disparities. In this paper, we show the progression of research on socioeconomic status (SES) and health through several eras. The first era reflected an implicit threshold model of the association of poverty and health. The second era produced evidence for a graded association between SES and health where each improvement in education, income, occupation, or wealth is associated with better health outcomes. Moving from description of the association to exploration of pathways, the third era focused on mechanisms linking SES and health, whereas the fourth era expanded on mechanisms to consider multilevel influences, and a fifth era added a focus on interactions among factors, not just their main effects or contributions as mediators. Questions from earlier eras remain active areas of research, while later eras add depth and complexity.