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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 G. Rivenbark, Louise Arseneault, Avshalom Caspi, Andrea Danese, Helen Fisher, Terrie Edith Moffitt, Line Jee Hartmann Rasmussen, Michael A. Russell, Candice Odgers

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Nov 2019


King's Authors


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 wellbeing is currently unknown. A co-twin 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 wellbeing in early and late adolescence. Participants were members of the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a representative cohort of British twins (N=2232) followed across the first two decades of life. By late adolescence, perceptions of subjective family social status (SFSS) robustly correlated with multiple indicators of health and wellbeing, including: depression, anxiety, conduct problems, marijuana use, optimism, NEET status, and crime. Findings held controlling for objective socioeconomic status both statistically and by co-twin design, after accounting for childhood 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 wellbeing or predictor of future problems. Future experimental studies are required to test whether altering adolescents’ subjective social status will lead to improved wellbeing and social mobility.

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