Introduction The association between asthma and socioeconomic position (SEP) is not well understood. This study aims to assess the variation in asthma across SEP in a historical cohort before the rise in asthma prevalence.
Methods Students participating in a health survey at Glasgow University from 1948 to 1968 (11 274 men; 3502 women) completed a medical history of bronchitis, asthma, hay fever, eczema/urticaria, and reported early life SEP. A subsample responded to a postal follow-up in adulthood (4101 men; 1411 women) including respiratory diseases and early life and adult SEP.
Results Among men, lower early life SEP was associated with higher risk of non-atopic asthma (asthma without eczema/urticaria or hay fever) (trend aOR=1.25 95% CI 1.05 to 1.48). Lower early life SEP was associated with a lower risk of hay fever (trend aOR=0.76 95% CI 0.68 to 0.85) and atopic asthma (asthma with eczema/urticaria or hay fever) (trend aOR=0.63 95% CI 0.50 to 0.78). No associations were seen for women. Early life SEP, adult household crowding, adult occupation, income and car ownership were not associated with adult onset asthma (onset >30 years) for men or women. Household amenities (<3) in early life was associated with higher risk of adult onset asthma for men (OR=1.48 95% CI 1.07 to 2.05).
Conclusion Lower SEP in early life was associated with a higher risk of non-atopic asthma but a lower risk of hay fever and atopic asthma among men in a cohort that preceded the 1960s rise in asthma prevalence in the UK. Adult onset asthma was associated with early life household amenities but not adult SEP.
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