On Health and Wealth

Relative socioeconomic status (SES) may be an important social determinant of health. A new study published in the journal Heath Psychology aimed to examine how relative SES, as measured by subjective SES, income inequality, and individual SES relative to others in the community, is associated with a wide range of adolescent health outcomes, after controlling for objective family SES. Method: Adolescents (13–16 years; N = 2,199) from the Quebec Child and Adolescent Health and Social Survey were included. Socioeconomic measures included adolescents’ subjective SES; parental education and household income; community education/employment, income, and poverty rate; and community income inequality. Health outcomes included self-rated health, mental health problems, dietary and exercise health behaviors, substance-related health behaviors, reported physical health, and biomarkers of health. Best-fitting multilevel regression models (participants nested within schools) were used to test associations. Findings indicated that lower subjective SES was associated with poorer health outcomes. After accounting for family SES, lower community education/employment had an additional negative effect on health, while lower community income had a protective effect for certain health outcomes. There was less evidence for an independent effect of income inequality. Conclusions: Findings highlight the importance of measures of relative SES that span across a number of levels and contexts, and provide further understanding into the socioeconomic gradient in adolescence.

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