Perception can be just as important as reality when it comes to the link between social class and health.
According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, new moms who see themselves as being in a lower socioeconomic position had poorer health outcomes one year after the birth of their child than new mothers who perceive themselves as having a higher status.
The study discovered that among women whose fundamental material requirements are addressed, their self-perceived status has a bigger impact on health than their actual income and education level. It was published in the Health Psychology journal.
Dickinson College researcher Christine Guardino, Ph.D., stated “Our findings underscore one manner in which socioeconomic status may influence maternal health disparities.” As a result of the pandemic-driven changes in employment, this could be very important right now.
Poverty has long been related to poor health outcomes, and earlier studies have revealed that subjective social status—a person’s sense of their own social position in relation to others in the United States—can also have an impact on health.
According to the researchers, the question of whether subjective social status influences biological markers of health in women during the year following childbirth has never been investigated before.
Guardino and co-author Christine Dunkel Schetter, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, looked at data from 1,168 new moms across the United States in five different settings: rural, suburban, and urban.
The data comes from the Community Child Health Network, a low-income family-focused research study financed by the National Institute for Child Health and Development.
The participants signed up for the study during their hospital stays after giving birth to a child. Researchers collected health data from the women during home visits one month, six months, and a year after they had given birth, including blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol, and cortisol levels.
They also gathered demographic information, such as educational attainment and household income. They also asked participants to rate their subjective social position using a well-known method in which they showed them a picture of a ladder, symbolizing where people stand in the United States, and asked them to identify which rung they viewed themselves on (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest).
Participants who believed they had a higher social status had a reduced allostatic load, which is a composite measure of various health factors that represent “wear and tear” on the body as a result of stress.
Because the link between participants’ perceived social status and stress was stronger than the link between participants’ income and stress, this study found.
However, the researchers discovered that the link varied based on participants’ income and education, with the highest link being observed among those with earnings greater than 153 percent of the federal poverty threshold and those who had completed high school or more schooling.
People living near or below the federal poverty line frequently face insufficient food, shelter, and healthcare access, all of which have an impact on health, Guardino said. When basic needs are met, people’s perceptions of social status may have a bigger impact on their health.
According to the researchers, this is the first study to look at the health implications of subjective social status in postpartum women, and it adds to evidence that people’s beliefs about their own social status can influence their health beyond objective measurements like wealth and education.