Social-Class Discrimination


Discrimination felt by teenagers based on their social class history can donate to physiologic changes associated with poorer health, according to a new study headed by a University of Wisconsin-Madison research workers.

Lead author Thomas Fuller-Rowell, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, says that while the link between poverty and poor health has been known, this is among the earliest studies to consider the effects of class discrimination.

"The findings of the research suggest that the anxiety brought on by social-class discrimination might be an important element in explaining the negative influence of poverty on health," says Fuller-Rowell.

The huge bulk of the 252 teenagers were white, so the research did not examine the effect of race.

"Experiences of social class discrimination are often subtle instead of blatant, and the exact cause of unfair treatment is frequently not clear to the victim," states Fuller-Rowell. For all these reasons, instead of asking the study participants if they had experienced discrimination especially based on their class background, the analysis measured overall perceptions of discrimination. As an example, they were asked:"How frequently do people treat you differently because of your background?"

Then researchers obtained immediately urine samples, and other evaluations to estimate stress on the body, including measures of blood pressure and also stress-related hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Together, these factors can measure a person's"allostatic load," a term that describes the negative health changes caused by a regular exposure to pressure.

The analysis discovered that teens who grew up in poverty reported higher levels of discrimination, and that discrimination, then, called allostatic load. In other words, the poorer the teenagers, the longer they experienced discrimination, the worse their health measures were. Fuller-Rowell's model suggests that about 13 percent of those negative health effects of poverty on health could be attributed to perceived discrimination.

"Our findings suggest that the stigma associated with poverty can result in class discrimination, and that, over time, can impact an individual's wellbeing," Fuller-Rowell says.

He says that the investigators were interested in the question because despite research showing that negative stereotypes regarding the poor are pervasive, research has failed to look at the impact of social class discrimination on the poor. Moreover, discussion of social group discrimination is usually not within the public discourse in precisely the exact same way as racial discrimination.

This suggests some possible avenues for assisting poor children cope with discrimination. In precisely the same manner minority kids tend to be alerted by their own parents to possible racial discrimination that they may encounter, Fuller-Rowell claims that most Americans may want to get better at discussing class discrimination and its consequences.

"Americans tend not to be comfortable talking about social class, since this will become a class-less nation," he says. "But in terms of mitigating the effects of class discrimination, speaking about it in schools and in the press is a start."

Fuller-Rowell's co-authors on the study are Gary Evans and Anthony Ong, both of Cornell University. The analysis results have been published in the journal Psychological Science.