Poverty is a major social problem in the United States and throughout much of the world. Poverty and the broader term socioeconomic status (SES) are important determinants of overall health status and many pulmonary diseases. The purpose of this study was to review the medical literature from the past 20 years addressing the relationship between SES and lung function in both children and adults. There is a significant negative correlation between lung function (primarily FEV1 and FVC) and SES. This relationship exists even after adjusting for smoking status, occupational exposures, and race. The magnitude of the effect of low SES on lung function is variable, but FEV1 reductions of > 300 mL in men and > 200 mL in women have been reported. SES is an important determinant of lung function and an underrecognized contributor to pulmonary disease.