Socioeconomic Status, Financial Strain, and Leukocyte Telomere Length in a Sample of African American Midlife Men

  • Joshua M. SchrockEmail author
  • Nancy E. Adler
  • Elissa S. Epel
  • Amani M. Nuru-Jeter
  • Jue Lin
  • Elizabeth H. Blackburn
  • Robert Joseph Taylor
  • David H. Chae



African American men in the USA experience poorer aging-related health outcomes compared to their White counterparts, partially due to socioeconomic disparities along racial lines. Greater exposure to socioeconomic strains among African American men may adversely impact health and aging at the cellular level, as indexed by shorter leukocyte telomere length (LTL). This study examined associations between socioeconomic factors and LTL among African American men in midlife, a life course stage when heterogeneity in both health and socioeconomic status are particularly pronounced.


Using multinomial logistic regression, we examined associations between multiple measures of SES and tertiles of LTL in a sample of 92 African American men between 30 to 50 years of age.


Reports of greater financial strain were associated with higher odds of short versus medium LTL (odds ratio (OR)=2.21, p = 0.03). Higher income was associated with lower odds of short versus medium telomeres (OR=0.97, p = 0.04). Exploratory analyses revealed a significant interaction between educational attainment and employment status (χ 2 = 4.07, p = 0.04), with greater education associated with lower odds of short versus long telomeres only among those not employed (OR=0.10, p = 0.040).


Cellular aging associated with multiple dimensions of socioeconomic adversity may contribute to poor aging-related health outcomes among African American men. Subjective appraisal of financial difficulty may impact LTL independently of objective dimensions of SES. Self-appraised success in fulfilling traditionally masculine gender roles, including being an economic provider, may be a particularly salient aspect of identity for African American men and have implications for cellular aging in this population.


African American men Telomere length Socioeconomic status Financial strain 



This work was supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Grants K01AG041787 to D.H.C. and P30 AG015281 to R.J.T.; the University of California, Berkeley Population Center; the University of California, San Francisco Health Disparities Group; and the Emory University Race and Difference Initiative. We thank the respondents of the Bay Area Heart Health Study for their participation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Disclosure Statement

J.L. is a co-founder of Telomere Diagnostics Inc. and serves on its scientific advisory board. The company plays no role in the current study. No other financial disclosures were reported by the authors of this paper.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© W. Montague Cobb-NMA Health Institute 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joshua M. Schrock
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nancy E. Adler
    • 2
  • Elissa S. Epel
    • 2
  • Amani M. Nuru-Jeter
    • 3
  • Jue Lin
    • 4
  • Elizabeth H. Blackburn
    • 4
    • 5
  • Robert Joseph Taylor
    • 6
  • David H. Chae
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Center for Health and CommunityUniversity of California, San Francisco, School of MedicineSan FranciscoUSA
  3. 3.Divisions of Community Health Sciences and EpidemiologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biochemistry and BiophysicsUniversity of California, San Francisco, School of MedicineSan FranciscoUSA
  5. 5.Department of Microbiology and ImmunologyUniversity of California, San Francisco, School of MedicineSan FranciscoUSA
  6. 6.School of Social WorkUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  7. 7.Department of Human Development & Family Studies, College of Human SciencesAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA

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