Socioeconomic position, immune function, and its physiological markers


The development of costly traits such as immune function and secondary sexual traits is constrained by resource availability. The quality of developmental conditions and the availability of resources in ontogeny may therefore influence immune system functions and other biological traits. We analyzed causal pathways between family socioeconomic position, strength of immune response, and five physiological biomarkers in young Latvian men (n = 93) using structural equation modeling. Men from wealthier families had higher testosterone levels (rs = 0.280), stronger immune response (rs = 0.551), and higher facial attractiveness (rs = 0.300). There were weak, non-significant correlations between family income, body fat percentage (rs = -0.147), and fluctuating asymmetry (rs = -0.159). Testosterone partially (33.8%) mediated the effect of family income on facial masculinity. Testosterone (positively) and adiposity (negatively) partially (4%) mediated the relationship between family income and immune function. Higher facial masculinity, higher facial symmetry, and lower adiposity were reliable and independent cues of better immune function (R2 = 0.238) in a larger sample of young Latvian men (N = 146). Resource availability in ontogeny has an important role for the development of immune function and physical appearance, and it is a key parameter to be included in human eco-immunological research.