When it comes to the link between socioeconomic status and health, perception can be as important as reality. A study published by the American Psychological Association reveals that new mothers who consider themselves lower on the socioeconomic scale have worse health outcomes one year after the birth of their child than new mothers who consider themselves as having a higher status.
Among women whose basic material needs are met, this self-perceived status may have a greater effect on health than their actual income and level of education, the study found. It was published in the journal Health Psychology.
Our results highlight one way in which socioeconomic status can influence maternal health disparities. This could be particularly relevant at this time, given the employment disruptions caused by the pandemic which may affect people’s perception of their own social status.”
Christine Guardino, PhD, study author, Dickinson College
Poverty has long been linked to adverse health effects, and some previous research has shown that this subjective social status – people’s perception of their own social status relative to others in the United States – can also affect health. But the question of whether subjective social status affects biological markers of health had never been explored in women in the year following childbirth, the researchers said.
Guardino and co-author Christine Dunkel Schetter, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzed data from 1,168 new mothers in five regions – rural, suburban and urban – across the United States. The data comes from the Community Child Health Network, a research study funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Development that focused on low-income families.
Participants enrolled in the study during hospital stays following the birth of a child. During home visits one month, six months and 12 months after giving birth, the researchers collected health data, including participants’ blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol and cortisol levels. They also collected demographic data, including education level and household income. And they asked participants to rate their subjective social status using an established method in which they showed participants a picture of a scale representing people’s standing in the United States and asked them to indicate the rung. on which they saw themselves (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest).
The researchers found that participants who perceived themselves to have higher social status had lower allostatic load – a combined measure of several health variables that reflects the “wear and tear” on the body due to stress. In fact, the strength of the association between participants’ perceived social status and allostatic load was stronger than the association between their income and allostatic load.
However, the researchers also found that the association varied by participants’ income and education – it was strongest for participants whose incomes were above 153% of the federal poverty level and who had completed their education. secondary or more.
“People living near or below the federal poverty level often face inadequate food, housing, and access to health care, all of which influence health,” Guardino said. “Perceptions of social status may have stronger effects on health when people’s basic material needs are met.”
The study is the first to examine the health effects of subjective social status in postpartum women, the researchers say, and provides further evidence that people’s perceptions of their own social status can affect their health even at beyond objective measures such as income and education.
American Psychological Association
Guardino, C., & Dunkel Schetter, C., (2022) Subjective social status and allostatic load in mothers one year after birth. Health Psychology. doi.org/10.1037/hea0001148.