Early life stress, subjective social status, and health during late adolescence

Psychol Health. 2020 Dec;35(12):1531-1549. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2020.1761977. Epub 2020 May 13.


Objective: Both lower subjective social status (SSS)-or viewing oneself as having lower status relative to others-and greater early life stress consistently relate to poorer health in adolescence. Early life stress can also negatively influence one's social relationships and may thereby shape social status. The present studies investigated how early life stress relates to the development of SSS and how SSS relates to health across the transition to college.Design: In Study 1, 91 older adolescents (Mage = 18.37) reported early life stress, society SSS, and school SSS, and they reported their society SSS and school SSS again 2 years later. In Study 2, 94 first-year college students (Mage = 18.20) reported early life stress and society SSS at study entry and reported their dorm SSS, university SSS, and mental health monthly throughout the year.Results: Greater early life stress was related to lower society SSS, but not school SSS, in both studies. In Study 2, dorm and university SSS and early life stress were uniquely related to mental health, although associations weakened over time.Conclusion: Early life stress may predispose people to have low society SSS, and both low school SSS and high early life stress may increase risk for poorer health during transition periods.

Keywords: Subjective social status; college transition; early life stress; mental health; social status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences / psychology*
  • Child Health / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance