Social status and risky health behaviors: Results from the health and retirement study

Linda A. Wray, Duane F. Alwin, Ryan J. McCammon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Objectives. We focus on a hypothesized mechanism that may underlie the well-documented link between social status and health-behavioral health risks. Methods. We use longitudinal data from representative samples of 6,106 middle-aged and 3,636 older adults from the Health and Retirement Study to examine the relationships between social status-including early life social status (e.g., parental schooling), ascribed social status (e.g., sex, race-ethnicity), and achieved social status (e.g., schooling, economic resources)-and behavioral health risks (e.g., weight, smoking, drinking, physical activity) to (1) assess how early life and ascribed social statuses are linked to behavioral health risks, (2) investigate the role of achieved factors in behavioral health risks, (3) test whether achieved status explains the contributions of early life and ascribed status, and (4) examine whether the social status and health risk relationships differ at midlife and older age. Results. We find that early life, achieved, and ascribed social statuses strongly predict behavioral health risks, although the effects are stronger in midlife than they are in older age. Discussion. Ascribed social statuses (and interactions of sex and race-ethnicity), which are important predictors of behavioral health risks even net of early life and achieved social status, should be explored in future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-92
Number of pages8
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue numberSPEC. ISS. OCT.
StatePublished - Oct 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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