Is telomere length socially patterned? Evidence from the West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study

Tony Robertson, G David Batty, Geoff Der, Michael J Green, Liane M McGlynn, Alan McIntyre, Paul G Shiels, Michaela Benzeval

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lower socioeconomic status (SES) is strongly associated with an increased risk of morbidity and premature mortality, but it is not known if the same is true for telomere length, a marker often used to assess biological ageing. The West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study was used to investigate this and consists of three cohorts aged approximately 35 (N = 775), 55 (N = 866) and 75 years (N = 544) at the time of telomere length measurement. Four sets of measurements of SES were investigated: those collected contemporaneously with telomere length assessment, educational markers, SES in childhood and SES over the preceding twenty years. We found mixed evidence for an association between SES and telomere length. In 35-year-olds, many of the education and childhood SES measures were associated with telomere length, i.e. those in poorer circumstances had shorter telomeres, as was intergenerational social mobility, but not accumulated disadvantage. A crude estimate showed that, at the same chronological age, social renters, for example, were nine years (biologically) older than home owners. No consistent associations were apparent in those aged 55 or 75. There is evidence of an association between SES and telomere length, but only in younger adults and most strongly using education and childhood SES measures. These results may reflect that childhood is a sensitive period for telomere attrition. The cohort differences are possibly the result of survival bias suppressing the SES-telomere association; cohort effects with regard different experiences of SES; or telomere possibly being a less effective marker of biological ageing at older ages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e41805
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2012


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Scotland
  • Social Class
  • Telomere
  • Telomere Shortening
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


Dive into the research topics of 'Is telomere length socially patterned? Evidence from the West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this