Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) 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 8 measures of cortisol (mean of 5.38 per respondent) over two 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.