Subjective and relative socioeconomic status and adolescent health outcomes
Authors: Elizabeth C. Quon
Social and psychological variables associated with relative position in the socioeconomic hierarchy may influence health over and above the material implications of that position. Subjective socioeconomic status, the perception of one’s position in the socioeconomic structure, may reflect relative status better than traditional measures of socioeconomic status. Income inequality, the scale of income distribution in a society, is linked to the degree of social status differentiation in a society. Although relative status and social comparison may be particularly relevant during adolescence, and adolescence may be a period of relevance for later health outcomes, less research has been conducted on socioeconomic disparities in health during this developmental period. The objective of the current research program is to examine how relative position in the socioeconomic hierarchy is related to adolescent health, across multiple domains of health: self-rated health, mental health, physical health, and health behaviours. Study 1, a systematic review and quantitative meta-analysis of the studies that have examined the association between subjective socioeconomic status and adolescent health, demonstrated a significant overall effect of subjective socioeconomic status on adolescent health, and examined the influence of a variety of moderating factors. Using data from the population-based National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, Study 2 found a main effect of province-level income inequality on select individual physical health outcomes and a moderating effect of income inequality on the associations between family socioeconomic status and mental health outcomes in adolescents. Using the Quebec Child and Adolescent Health and Social Survey, Study 3 demonstrated the independent effects of subjective socioeconomic status, individual socioeconomic status relative to community, and income inequality on a range of adolescent health outcomes. Overall, this research program provided a comprehensive understanding of the influence of subjective socioeconomic status and income inequality, and the broader construct of relative status, on several domains of health during adolescence. It is recommended that future studies use longitudinal data to examine pathways between relative socioeconomic status and health during adolescence and into adulthood. Further examination of cross-level interactions is also warranted. This line of research has implications for health and social policy.
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