SES Affects Our Society
SES affects overall human functioning, including our physical and mental health. Low SES and its correlates, such as lower educational achievement, poverty and poor health, ultimately affect our society. Inequities in health distribution, resource distribution, and quality of life are increasing in the United States and globally. Society benefits from an increased focus on the foundations of socioeconomic inequities and efforts to reduce the deep gaps in socioeconomic status in the United States and abroad.
SES Impacts the Lives of Children, Youth and Families
Research indicates that SES is a key factor influencing quality of life, across the life span, for children, youth and families (CYF).
Increasing evidence supports the link between lower SES and negative psychological health outcomes, while more positive psychological outcomes such as optimism, self-esteem and perceived control have been linked to higher levels of SES for youth.
Lower levels of SES are associated with the following:
- Higher levels of emotional and behavioral difficulties, including social problems, delinquent behavior symptoms and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adolescents (DeCarlo Santiago, Wadsworth, & Stump, 2011; Russell, Ford, Williams, & Russell, 2016; Spencer, Kohn, & Woods, 2002).
- Higher rates of depression, anxiety, attempted suicide, cigarette dependence, illicit drug use and episodic heavy drinking among adolescents (Newacheck, Hung, Park, Brindis, & Irwin, 2003).
- Higher levels of aggression (Molnar, Cerda, Roberts, & Buka, 2008), hostility, perceived threat, and discrimination for youth (Chen & Paterson, 2006).
- Higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease later in life (Evans et al., 1997; Fratiglioni & Roca, 2001; Fratiglioni, Winblad, & von Strauss, 2007; Karp et al., 2004). However, socioeconomic disparities in cell aging are evident in early life, long before the onset of age-related diseases (Needham, Fernández, Lin, Epel, & Blackburn, 2012).
- Elevated rates of morbidity and mortality from chronic diseases later in life (Miller, Chen, & Parker, 2011).
Research continues to link lower SES to a variety of negative health outcomes at birth and throughout the lifespan.
Lower levels of SES are associated with the following:
- Higher infant mortality. In the United States, babies born to White mothers have an expected mortality rate of 5.35 per 1,000 births. In comparison, babies born to black mothers had a mortality rate of 12.35 per 1,000 births (Haider, 2014).
- Higher likelihood of being sedentary (Newacheck et al., 2003) and higher body mass index for adolescents (Chen & Paterson, 2006), possibly because of a lack of neighborhood resources—such as playgrounds and accessible healthy food options.
- Higher levels of obesity. U.S. counties with poverty rates of less than 35 percent had obesity rates 145 percent greater than wealthy counties (Levine, 2011).
- Higher physiological markers of chronic stressful experiences for adolescents (Chen & Paterson, 2006).
- Higher rates of cardiovascular disease for adults (Colhoun, Hemingway, & Poulter, 1998; Kaplan & Keil, 1993; Steptoe & Marmot, 2004).
Increasing evidence supports the link between SES and educational outcomes.
- Low SES and exposure to adversity are linked to decreased educational success (Sheridan & McLaughlin, 2016). Early experiences and environmental influences can have a lasting impact on learning (linguistic, cognitive and socioemotional skills), behavior and health (Shonkoff & Garner, 2012).
- Children from low-SES families often begin kindergarten with significantly less linguistic knowledge (Purcell-Gates, McIntyre, & Freppon, 1995). As such, children from low-income families enter high school with average literacy skills five years behind those of high-income students (Reardon, Valentino, & Shores, 2013).
- Children from less-advantaged homes score at least ten percent lower than the national average on national achievement scores in mathematics and reading (Hochschild, 2003).
- Children in impoverished settings are much more likely to be absent from school throughout their educational experiences (Zhang, 2003), further increasing the learning gap between them and their wealthier peers.
- While national high school dropout rates have steadily declined, dropout rates for children living in poverty have steadily increased. Low-income students fail to graduate at five times the rate of middle-income families and six times that of higher income youth (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016).
Evidence indicates that socioeconomic status affects family stability, including parenting practices and developmental outcomes for children (Trickett, Aber, Carlson, & Cicchetti, 1991).
- Resilience is optimized when protective factors are strengthened at all socioecological levels, including individual, family and community levels (Benzies & Mychasiuk, 2009).
- Poverty is a reliable predictor of child abuse and neglect. Among low-income families, those with family exposure to substance use exhibit the highest rates of child abuse and neglect (Ondersma, 2002).
- Lower SES has been linked to domestic crowding, a condition that has negative consequences for adults and children, including higher psychological stress and poor health outcomes (Melki, Beydoun, Khogali, Tamim, & Yunis, 2004).
- Seven in 10 children living with a single mother are low income, compared to less than a third (32 percent) of children living in other types of family structures (Shriberg, 2013).
- All family members living in poverty are more likely to be victims of violence. Racial and ethnic minorities who are also of lower SES are at an increased risk of victimization (Pearlman, Zierler, Gjelsvik, & Verhoek-Oftedahl, 2004).
- Maintaining a strong parent–child bond helps promote healthy child development, particularly for children of low SES (Milteer, Ginsburg, & Mulligan, 2012).
- Support parents and caregivers in combating environmental stressors by using the Resilience Booster: Parent Tip Tool.
- Join the ACT Raising Safe Kids Program that teaches positive parenting skills to parents and caregivers.
- Consider SES in your education, practice, and research efforts.
- Stay up to date on legislation and policies that explore and work to eliminate socioeconomic disparities. Visit the Office on Government Relations website.
- Visit APA’s Office on Socioeconomic Status (OSES) website.
- Visit APA’s Office on CYF website.
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