There are marked socioeconomic variations in the risk of female reproductive cancers. We examine here data from the World Fertility Surveys, the Demographic and Health Surveys, and other national surveys, to assess whether these variations in cancer risk might be explained, at least in part, by socioeconomic variations in reproductive behaviour. There were marked socioeconomic differentials in achieved parity, age at first birth, final childlessness, duration of breastfeeding, and possibly also age at menopause. These differentials were present in almost all settings: countries with low and high levels of modernization, and countries with low and high levels of fertility. In general, women of higher socioeconomic status and with more education had lower fertility and later age at first birth, but a greater prevalence of childlessness, shorter duration of breastfeeding and later age at menopause. However, the size and even the direction of these differentials varied markedly from country to country according to its level of economic development and, within each country, from generation to generation of women. It is possible that some of these socioeconomic differences may be narrowing in recent generations in Western countries. There was little evidence of socioeconomic variations in age at menarche. The observed socioeconomic differentials in most aspects of reproductive behaviour could potentially account for some of the socioeconomic variation in the risk of female reproductive cancers. However, this relationship could not be assessed directly because such analysis would require birth-cohort-specific data on socioeconomic variations in reproductive behaviour and in cancer risks. Unfortunately, these data are not available.


Journal article


IARC Sci Publ

Publication Date



285 - 308


Adult, Age Factors, Breast Feeding, Breast Neoplasms, Cohort Effect, Cohort Studies, Developed Countries, Developing Countries, Educational Status, Europe, Female, Fertility, Genital Neoplasms, Female, Global Health, Humans, Maternal Age, Menarche, Menopause, Middle Aged, Parity, Pregnancy, Reproductive History, Risk Factors, Social Class, United States