Pathways to resilience: maternal nurturance as a buffer against the effects of childhood poverty on metabolic syndrome at midlife

Psychol Sci. 2011 Dec;22(12):1591-9. doi: 10.1177/0956797611419170. Epub 2011 Nov 28.


Children raised in families with low socioeconomic status (SES) go on to have high rates of chronic illness in adulthood. However, a sizable minority of low-SES children remain healthy across the life course, which raises questions about the factors associated with, and potentially responsible for, such resilience. Using a sample of 1,205 middle-aged Americans, we explored whether two characteristics--upward socioeconomic mobility and early parental nurturance--were associated with resilience to the health effects of childhood disadvantage. The primary outcome in our analyses was the presence of metabolic syndrome in adulthood. Results revealed that low childhood SES was associated with higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome at midlife, independently of traditional risk factors. Despite this pattern, half the participants raised in low-SES households were free of metabolic syndrome at midlife. Upward social mobility was not associated with resilience to metabolic syndrome. However, results were consistent with a buffering scenario, in which high levels of maternal nurturance offset the metabolic consequences of childhood disadvantage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Educational Status
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Poverty*
  • Resilience, Psychological*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors