Children reared by parents of low socioeconomic status (SES) go on to have elevated rates of physical health problems and premature mortality. However, many children reared in low-SES families remain healthy throughout the life-span. Here, secondary analyses of archival data tested the hypothesis that a positive relationship with parents during childhood acts as a buffer of the increased risk of adult susceptibility to infectious illness associated with low childhood SES.
One hundred seventy-six healthy adults reported their childhood SES and the quality of their relationships with their parents during childhood. Relationship quality was defined as parental care, love and support, lack of conflict with parents, and family cohesiveness. Afterward, participants were exposed to a respiratory virus and monitored in quarantine for 5 days for the development of a “common cold” as indicated by infection and objective markers of illness.
The increased risk of developing a cold associated with being reared in a low SES household was attenuated by a positive relationship with parents during childhood (b(SE) = 0.08 (0.03), p = .010). This buffering of disease risk held up across the four components of relationship quality (p values < .05). The association was independent of adult SES, demographics, prechallenge immunity to the virus, current levels of neuroticism and stress, parental divorce during childhood, and number of siblings (p values < .05).
Individuals with positive relationships with their parents during childhood are buffered from the increased risk of adult susceptibility to an infectious disease associated with low childhood SES.