Adolescents in the United States live amid high levels of concentrated poverty and increasing income inequality. Poverty is robustly linked to adolescents' mental health problems; however, less is known about how perceptions of their social status and exposure to local area income inequality relate to mental health. Participants consisted of a population-representative sample of over 2,100 adolescents (ages 10-16), 395 of whom completed a 14-day ecological momentary assessment (EMA) study. Participants' subjective social status (SSS) was assessed at the start of the EMA, and mental health symptoms were measured both at baseline for the entire sample and daily in the EMA sample. Adolescents' SSS tracked family, school, and neighborhood economic indicators (|r| ranging from .12 to .30), and associations did not differ by age, race, or gender. SSS was independently associated with mental health, with stronger associations among older (ages 14-16) versus younger (ages 10-13) adolescents. Adolescents with lower SSS reported higher psychological distress and inattention problems, as well as more conduct problems, in daily life. Those living in areas with higher income inequality reported significantly lower subjective social status, but this association was explained by family and neighborhood income. Findings illustrate that adolescents' SSS is correlated with both internalizing and externalizing mental health problems, and that by age 14 it becomes a unique predictor of mental health problems.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Life-span and Life-course Studies