Subjective Social Status (SSS), or one’s self-perceived rank on the social ladder, is a strong contributor to adolescent health and psychosocial wellbeing. Among adolescents, low SSS has been associated with increased risk for obesity, depression, and future substance use. SSS is often assessed in the context of one’s community or society, and is paired with traditional measures of socioeconomic status (SES) to capture objective status and subjective perceptions regarding one’s trajectory and opportunities in life. However, little is known about the determinants of SSS, particularly the influence of childhood adversity. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have lasting effects on physical and mental health in youth, and include experiences of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. This study examines the association of society/community SSS with ACEs and SES measures of household income, parental education, and food insecurity.
Hispanic adolescents (n=133; age 15-21; 60.2% female) were recruited via flyers and word-of-mouth. To assess SSS, participants completed validated MacArthur scales through self-ranking on a 10-rung ladder representing their individual position relative to their community, and their family’s position relative to society. The number of ACEs were assessed using the Modified ACE Questionnaire, expanded to include experiences such as physical bullying and cyber bullying. SES was measured through self-reported questionnaires that assessed household income, parental education, and food insecurity. Univariate analysis was used to explore participant characteristics, and bivariate Pearson’s correlations were used to assess associations of SSS with ACEs and SES measures.
The majority (87.2%) of participants experienced at least 1 ACE, and 28.6% of participants experienced 4 or more ACEs. Roughly a fourth (25.6%) of participants experienced food insecurity. We found that society and community SSS, respectively, were each associated with ACEs (r = -0.219, p = 0.011; r = -0.176, p = 0.042), food insecurity (r = -0.228, p = 0.008; r = -0.278, p = 0.001,) and household income (r = 0.224, p = 0.009; r = 0.204, p = 0.019). Society nor community SSS were associated with parental education.
To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the relationship between SSS and ACEs. We found that higher number of ACEs were associated with poor SSS among Hispanic adolescents. While several explanations for the pathway from ACEs to health risks have previously been proposed in adults, there is little consensus in literature and for youth. Here, we suggest SSS may be a mechanism through which ACEs contribute to these outcomes. In this study, we also found that SSS was associated with food insecurity and household income, but not parental education, which is consistent with prior research. Given that SSS is a strong predictor of health and psychosocial outcomes, characterizing the factors that drive the development of SSS among youth may help identify important clinical targets.
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