Supportive Family Environments Ameliorate the Link Between Racial Discrimination and Epigenetic Aging: A Replication Across Two Longitudinal Cohorts

Psychol Sci. 2016 Apr;27(4):530-41. doi: 10.1177/0956797615626703. Epub 2016 Feb 25.


This study tested the hypothesis that supportive family environments during adolescence buffer exposure to racial discrimination, reducing its impact on biological weathering and its manifestation in cellular aging. Perceived racial discrimination, support in the family environment, and confounder variables were assessed for 3 consecutive years across adolescence in two independent cohorts of African American youth from rural Georgia. DNA was extracted from peripheral blood mononuclear cells collected during young adulthood. Patterns of methylation were used to index the epigenetic ages of these cells and the extent to which they differed from participants' chronological ages. Among youth in supportive family environments, exposure to higher levels of racial discrimination did not forecast greater epigenetic aging. Among youth in less supportive family environments, exposure to higher levels of racial discrimination did forecast greater epigenetic aging. The associations emerged independently of confounder variables, and the results were replicated across the two cohorts.

Keywords: adolescent development; environmental effects; minority groups; racial and ethnic attitudes and relations; relationship quality.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • African Americans / genetics*
  • Aging*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • Environment*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Georgia
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Racism*
  • Rural Population
  • Young Adult