Absolute rather than relative income is a better socioeconomic predictor of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Swedish adults

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BACKGROUND: While psychosocial theory claims that socioeconomic status (SES), acting through social comparisons, has an important influence on susceptibility to disease, materialistic theory says that socioeconomic position (SEP) and related access to material resources matter more. However, the relative role of SEP versus SES in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) risk has still not been examined.

METHOD: We investigated the association between SES/SEP and COPD risk among 667 094 older adults, aged 55 to 60, residing in Sweden between 2006 and 2011. Absolute income in five groups by population quintiles depicted SEP and relative income expressed as quintile groups within each absolute income group represented SES. We performed sex-stratified logistic regression models to estimate odds ratios and the area under the receiver operator curve (AUC) to compare the discriminatory accuracy of SES and SEP in relation to COPD.

RESULTS: Even though both absolute (SEP) and relative income (SES) were associated with COPD risk, only absolute income (SEP) presented a clear gradient, so the poorest had a three-fold higher COPD risk than the richest individuals. While the AUC for a model including only age was 0.54 and 0.55 when including relative income (SES), it increased to 0.65 when accounting for absolute income (SEP). SEP rather than SES demonstrated a consistent association with COPD.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study supports the materialistic theory. Access to material resources seems more relevant to COPD risk than the consequences of low relative income.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology


  • Journal Article
Original languageEnglish
Article number70
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017 May 4
Publication categoryResearch

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