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Adolescents' perceptions of family social status correlate with health and life chances: A twin difference longitudinal cohort study

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  • Joshua Rivenbark
  • Louise Arseneault
  • Avshalom Caspi
  • Andrea Danese
  • Helen L Fisher
  • Terrie E Moffitt
  • Line J H Rasmussen
  • Michael A Russell
  • Candice L Odgers
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Children from lower-income households are at increased risk for poor health, educational failure, and behavioral problems. This social gradient is one of the most reproduced findings in health and social science. How people view their position in social hierarchies also signals poor health. However, when adolescents' views of their social position begin to independently relate to well-being is currently unknown. A cotwin design was leveraged to test whether adolescents with identical family backgrounds, but who viewed their family's social status as higher than their same-aged and sex sibling, experienced better well-being in early and late adolescence. Participants were members of the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a representative cohort of British twins (n = 2,232) followed across the first 2 decades of life. By late adolescence, perceptions of subjective family social status (SFSS) robustly correlated with multiple indicators of health and well-being, including depression; anxiety; conduct problems; marijuana use; optimism; not in education, employment, or training (NEET) status; and crime. Findings held controlling for objective socioeconomic status both statistically and by cotwin design after accounting for measures of childhood intelligence (IQ), negative affect, and prior mental health risk and when self-report, informant report, and administrative data were used. Little support was found for the biological embedding of adolescents' perceptions of familial social status as indexed by inflammatory biomarkers or cognitive tests in late adolescence or for SFSS in early adolescence as a robust correlate of well-being or predictor of future problems. Future experimental studies are required to test whether altering adolescents' subjective social status will lead to improved well-being and social mobility.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
ISSN0027-8424
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

ID: 58919333