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Protective Factors for Adults From Low-Childhood Socioeconomic Circumstances: The Benefits of Shift-and-Persist for Allostatic Load

Chen, Edith PhD; Miller, Gregory E. PhD; Lachman, Margie E. PhD; Gruenewald, Tara L. PhD; Seeman, Teresa E. PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31824206fd
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Objective Low socioeconomic status (SES) early in life is one of the most well-established social predictors of poor health. However, little is understood about why some adults who grew up in low-SES environments do not have poor health outcomes. This study examined whether the psychological characteristic of “shift-and-persist” protects adults from the physiological risks of growing up in low-SES households. Shift-and-persist consists of reframing appraisals of current stressors more positively (shifting), while simultaneously persisting with a focus on the future. We hypothesized that this characteristic would be associated with reduced physiological risk in low-childhood SES individuals.

Methods A national sample of 1207 adults (aged 25–74 years) from the Survey of Midlife Development in the United States completed psychological questionnaires and were queried about parent education. Biologic assessments consisted of 24 different measures across seven physiological systems, from which a composite measure representing cumulative physiological risk (allostatic load) was derived.

Results Among adults who grew up in low-SES households, those who engaged in high-shift-and-high-persist strategies had the lowest allostatic load (b = −0.15, p = .04). No benefit of shift-and-persist was found for those from higher-childhood SES backgrounds (p = .36).

Conclusions Identifying the health-related protective qualities that naturally occur in some low-SES individuals represents one important approach for developing future health improvement interventions for those who start out life low in SES. Moreover, the psychological qualities that are protective from future disease risk for those from low-SES backgrounds are different from those beneficial to high-SES individuals.

From the Department of Psychology (E.C., G.E.M.), University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Department of Psychology (M.E.L.), Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; and Division of Geriatrics, Department of Medicine (T.L.G., T.E.S.), University of California, Los Angeles, California.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Edith Chen, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 W Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z4. E-mail: echen@psych.ubc.ca

This study was supported by Grant PO1 AG20166 from the National Institutes of Health (Drs. Lachman and Seeman).

Received for publication June 2, 2011; revision received October 12, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 by American Psychosomatic Society
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