For richer or poorer: Socioeconomic status may change brain's structure, function

Socioeconomic status will undoubtedly affect an adult mentally and emotionally. However, researchers have discovered that it may go as far as changing an adult's brain structure and function, according to research published May 14 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.  

The researchers, led by Gagan Wig, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, conducted brain functional MRI (fMRI) on 304 participants between the ages of 20 and 89 years old, who were recruited from the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas.

They measured each participant's socioeconomic status using a combination of education and the "prestige" of their occupation, according to the researchers. 

Middle-aged adults (35 to 64 years old) with a higher overall socioeconomic status had more efficiently organized neural networks and thicker cortical grey matter, the researchers wrote. In comparison, adults from lower socioeconomic backgrounds had thinner cortices—a precursor for memory loss and dementia later in life.  

“What makes these results more striking is that the individuals we studied were predominantly above the poverty line," Wig said in an interview with the U.K.’s Independent. "This provides evidence that socioeconomic status-brain relationships are not limited to individuals at the extreme ends of socioeconomic status but are present across a broader socioeconomic status range.” 

However, Wig and colleagues noted that differences in socioeconomic status can be due to a wide variety of factors and that supplemental research is needed. 

“The bottom line is, socioeconomic status might matter for brain health, even in middle age, and we will need to investigate the relationship further," Wig told the Independent.