Adolescents’ view of their family’s social status is significantly associated with their mental health and life outcomes, according to study findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Even among siblings growing up in the same family, where family income and resources are identical, youth perceptions of where their family stands signal whether they will be successful in the transition to adulthood,” Candice Odgers, PhD, of the department of psychological science at the University of California Irvine, told Healio Psychiatry. “Although it is not possible to sort out cause from effect in this study, the findings point to a need to test whether changing youth perceptions of their place in society can help them move up the social and economic ladder.”
According to Odgers and colleagues, previous research largely focused on adults’ subjective social status and its association with mental and physical health problems. Although little research exists on the role of subjective social status earlier in life, they highlighted a meta-analysis that found fewer reported mental health problems among adolescents who perceived their family to be in a higher socioeconomic or social status. To address this research gap, Odgers and colleagues used a co-twin design to test whether adolescents with identical family backgrounds but who had higher perceptions of their family’s social status than their same-aged and sex sibling experienced increased well-being in early and late adolescence. The researchers obtained data from 2,232 British twins who were included in the representative cohort Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study and followed across their first 20 years of life. Perceptions of subjective family social status by late adolescence significantly correlated with numerous indicators of health and well-being, including anxiety, conduct problems, crime, depression, marijuana use and optimism. The researchers controlled for objective socioeconomic status both statistically and by co-twin design and reported that the findings remained. They also found little support for “biological embedding of adolescent perceptions of family social status as indexed by inflammatory biomarkers or cognitive tests in late adolescence, or for subjective family social status in early adolescence as a robust correlate of well-being or predictor of future problems,” they wrote.
“These results were both unexpected and encouraging — unexpected in that youth perceptions often outperformed objective indicators of income and resources in relation to key and costly indicators of well-being, and encouraging if it turns out that changing how young people see themselves in society can be targeted to help them both see and move their way up the social ladder,” Odgers said. – by Joe Gramigna
Disclosures: Odgers reports support from a Jacobs Foundation Advanced Research Fellowship and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.