Original Article

Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 13-20

First online:

Education and Levels of Salivary Cortisol Over the Day in US Adults

  • Jennifer B. DowdAffiliated withSchool of Public Health, Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY)CUNY Institute for Demographic Research (CIDR) Email author 
  • , Nalini RanjitAffiliated withSchool of Public Health, University of TexasMichael and Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living
  • , D. Phuong DoAffiliated withDepartment of Health Services Policy and Management, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina
  • , Elizabeth A. YoungAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Michigan
  • , James S. HouseAffiliated withInstitute for Social Research, University of Michigan
  • , George A. KaplanAffiliated withCenter for Social Epidemiology and Population Health, School of Public Health-University of MichiganDepartment of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Michigan

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Dysregulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis is hypothesized to be an important pathway linking socioeconomic position and chronic disease.


This paper tests the association between education and the diurnal rhythm of salivary cortisol.


Up to eight measures of cortisol (mean of 5.38 per respondent) over 2 days were obtained from 311 respondents, aged 18–70, drawn from the 2001–2002 Chicago Community Adult Health Study. Multi-level models with linear splines were used to estimate waking level, rates of cortisol decline, and area-under-the-curve over the day, by categories of education.


Lower education (0–11 years) was associated with lower waking levels of cortisol, but not the rate of decline of cortisol, resulting in a higher area-under-the-curve for more educated respondents throughout the day.


This study found evidence of lower cortisol exposure among individuals with less education and thus does not support the hypothesis that less education is associated with chronic over-exposure to cortisol.


Socioeconomic factors Cortisol Education