Higher-Status Occupations and Breast Cancer: A Life-Course Stress Approach

Tetyana Pudrovska, Pennsylvania State University
Michael McFarland, Princeton University
Caitlyn Collins, University of Texas at Austin

Using the 1957-2011 data from 4,093 women in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, we explore the effect of occupation in 1975 (age 36) on breast cancer incidence and mortality up to age 72. Compared to housewives and women in lower-status occupations, women in professional and managerial occupations had 65%-80% higher risk of a breast cancer diagnosis, and this risk accumulated with longer duration in higher-status occupations. The elevated risk of breast cancer among professional women was partly explained by estrogen-related factors but remained large and statistically significant. The association between managerial occupations and breast cancer incidence was reduced after adjustment for reproductive histories and fully explained by job authority defined as control over others’ work. We suggest that the assertion of job authority by women in the 1970s involved social stressors that may have promoted breast cancer via exposure of breast tissue to anti-apoptotic and proliferative effects of chronically elevated cortisol.

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Presented in Session 102: Stress and Health