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In the United States, childhood asthma morbidity and prevalence rates are the highest in less affluent urban minority communities. More than 80% of childhood asthmatics are allergic to one or more inhalant allergens. We evaluated whether socioeconomic status was associated with a differential in the levels and types of indoor home allergens. Dust samples for an ELISA allergen assay were collected from the homes of 499 families as part of a metropolitan Boston, Massachusetts, longitudinal birth cohort study of home allergens and asthma in children with a parental history of asthma or allergy. The proportion of homes with maximum home allergen levels in the highest category was 42% for dust mite allergen (> or = 10 microg/g Der p 1 or Der f 1), 13% for cockroach allergen (> or = 2 U/g Bla g 1 or Bla g 2), 26% for cat allergen (> or = 8 microg/g Fel d 1), and 20% for dog allergen (> or = 10 microg/g Can f 1). Homes in the high-poverty area (> 20% of the population below the poverty level) were more likely to have high cockroach allergen levels than homes in the low-poverty area [51 vs. 3%; OR, 33; 95% confidence interval (CI), 12-90], but less likely to have high levels of dust mite allergen (16 vs. 53%; OR, 0.2; CI, 0.1-0.4). Lower family income, less maternal education, and race/ethnicity (black or Hispanic vs. white) were also associated with a lower risk of high dust mite levels and a greater risk of high cockroach allergen levels. Within a single U.S. metropolitan area we found marked between-community differences in the types of allergens present in the home, but not necessarily in the overall burden of allergen exposure.