Old man and his grandson walk in the woods.

New Biomarker Research Provides Insights Into What Speeds up or Slows Down the Aging Process

Several new studies find that socioeconomic status, as measured by one’s education, income, or occupation, contributes to rapid aging across the life course.

Slowing down aging is a hot topic lately. Whether it’s billionaires seeking to roll back the biological clock, competitions to see who’s aging the slowest, or diets that claim to promote living to age 100, a focus on aging is everywhere. But what does the latest science say about what it takes to live longer and what may curtail longevity? Recent studies supported by the National Institute on Aging use biomarkers—measures of what’s happening in the body such as those detectable through blood tests—to provide insights on living longer, healthier lives.1

Lower socioeconomic status and systemic racism contribute to rapid aging

Several new studies find that socioeconomic status (SES)—as measured by one’s education, income, or occupation—contributes to rapid aging across the life course. Being of lower SES as a youth and experiencing a lack of stimulation or affection in childhood are associated with rapid aging (as measured by biomarkers) later in life, in part because of increased smoking in adulthood.2 Such early life experiences have lingering effects into adulthood, affecting the rate at which people age.

But SES later in life matters, too. Middle-aged and older adults with lower SES also had biomarkers indicating older biological ages and more rapid aging consistent with “weathering,” or the cumulative effect that heightened stress has over a lifetime on health.3

Race and ethnicity are associated with SES, and systemic racism further compounds accelerated aging. Race differences in aging are stark—Black respondents have biomarkers nine years older than their white peers of the same chronological age—and SES differences over the life course and heightened stress burdens are major factors.4 Among adults ages 56 to 74, non-Hispanic Black and U.S.-born Hispanic adults aged faster than average, while non-Hispanic white people aged slower, attributed in part to differences in educational attainment.5 Another study found that Black cancer patients and widowers over age 50 had more memory loss following treatment, which contributed to accelerated aging and a harder recovery.6

Feelings of connection and control are important buffers

Having substantive social connections and a sense of control over one’s self and life circumstances are important social psychological factors that buffer the aging process. One study found that not having close relationships with family and friends and feeling less support from them contributed to accelerated biomarker aging in adults over age 50.7

Having self-control, such as over one’s behavioral and emotional responses, is also an important factor for aging. Lower self-control is associated with faster biomarker aging in adults.8 Lead author Willems and colleagues recognize, however, that feelings of self-control may directly affect aging and may also be an indirect consequence of other factors, such as poor health.

Finally, having a sense of control over your work, as well as other working conditions, are also important for aging. Among older Americans (ages 51 to 60) who were still working for pay, those in service jobs had biomarker levels indicating they were 1.65 years older—even after accounting for other SES factors, working conditions, health insurance, and other factors—than those who were in professional and managerial roles.9 The factors that mattered most for biomarker aging were low job control (+1.4 years), heavy lifting (+2.1 years), and long working hours (+1.9 years).

Improving how we measure aging

Finally, multiple efforts to improve how we measure biological aging via biomarkers may soon provide us with even more accurate assessments. Some researchers are building better “centenarian” clocks to measure whether someone has truly lived up to and beyond age 100 or not to validate claims of reaching an age that cannot be verified in official records.10 Other researchers are improving the measurement of vascular aging—how one’s veins age, including rising blood pressure and the complications associated with it—to have more sensitive diagnostics.11

Collectively, these research studies suggest we are building a greater understanding of the true upper limit of the human lifespan, factors that intervene in longevity, and the interventions that help extend our later years. A common theme running throughout this research is that improving equity throughout society could improve biological aging, particularly for those with more socioeconomic disadvantages.



[1] National Institute on Aging, “How Biomarkers Help Diagnose Dementia.”

[2] Cecilia Potente, et al., “Socioeconomic Inequalities and Molecular Risk for Aging in Young Adulthood,” American Journal of Epidemiology 192, no. 12 (2023): 1981-90. doi:10.1093/aje/kwad155; and Lauren L. Schmitz et al., “Associations of Early-Life Adversity With Later-Life Epigenetic Aging Profiles in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis,” American Journal of Epidemiology 192, no. 12 (2023): 1991-2005. doi:10.1093/aje/kwad172.

[3] L. Raffington et al., “Associations of Socioeconomic Disparities With Buccal DNA-Methylation Measures of Biological Aging,” Clinical Epigenetics 15, no. 1 (2023): 70. doi:10.1186/s13148-023-01489-7.

[4] Courtney E. Boen et al., “Patterns and Life Course Determinants of Black-White Disparities in Biological Age Acceleration: A Decomposition Analysis,” Demography 60, no. 6 (2023): 1815-41. doi:10.1215/00703370-11057546.

[5] Mateo P. Farina et al., “Racial/Ethnic Differences in Biological Aging and Their Life Course Socioeconomic Determinants: The 2016 Health and Retirement Study,” Journal of Aging and Health 35, no. 3-4 (2023): 209-20. doi:10.1177/08982643221120743.

[6] Ashly C. Westrick et al., “Functional Aging Trajectories of Older Cancer Survivors: A Latent Growth Analysis of the US Health and Retirement Study,” Journal of Cancer Survivorship: Research and Practice 17, no. 5 (2023): 1499-1509. doi:10.1007/s11764-022-01185-0.

[7] Kelly E. Rentscher et al., “Social Relationships and Epigenetic Aging in Older Adulthood: Results From the Health and Retirement Study,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 114 (2023): 349-59.  doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2023.09.001.

[8] Y.E. Willems, et al., “Self-Control Is Associated With Health-Relevant Disparities in Buccal DNA-Methylation Measures of Biological Aging in Older Adults,” MedRxiv: The Preprint Server for Health Sciences (Sept. 2023). doi:10.1101/2023.08.30.23294816. Preprint.

[9] Theresa Andrasfay et al., “Aging on the Job? The Association Between Occupational Characteristics and Accelerated Biological Aging,” The Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 78, no. 7 (2023): 1236-45. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbad055.

[10] Eric Dec et al., “Centenarian Clocks: Epigenetic Clocks for Validating Claims of Exceptional Longevity,” GeroScience 45, no. 3 (2023): 1817-35. doi:10.1007/s11357-023-00731-7.

[11] Kevin S. Heffernan et al., “Estimated Pulse Wave Velocity as a Measure of Vascular Aging,” PloS One 18, no. 1 (2023): e0280896. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0280896.