Socioeconomic Status and Cardiovascular Responses to Standardized Stressors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Objective: Disparities in cardiovascular health by socioeconomic status (SES) are a pressing public health concern. Hypothesized mechanisms linking low SES to poor health are large cardiovascular responses to and delayed recovery from psychological stress. The current study presents a meta-analysis of the literature on the association of SES with blood pressure and heart rate reactivity to and recovery from acute stress tasks. Methods: The PubMed database was searched, and 26 unique studies with relevant data were identified (k = 25 reactivity [n = 14,617], k = 6 recovery [n = 1,324]). Results: Using random-effects models, no significant association between SES and cardiovascular reactivity to stress emerged (r = .008, 95% confidence interval = -.02 to .04), although higher SES was associated with better recovery from stress (r = -.14, 95% confidence interval -. 23 to -. 05). Stressor type moderated the reactivity effect, wherein higher SES was associated with greater reactivity to cognitive stressors (r = .036, p = .024), not with reactivity to interpersonal stressors (r = -.02, p = .62), but was associated with lower reactivity to tasks with combinations of cognitive, interpersonal, and physical challenges (r = -.12, p = .029). Accounting for publication bias revealed a significant association between SES and reactivity in the opposite direction of hypotheses. Conclusions: Cardiovascular recovery from acute stress, but not reactivity to stress, may be a key pathway between low SES and risk for cardiovascular diseases. Heterogeneity in effect size and direction, challenges related to working across temporal dynamics, and recommendations for future research are discussed.