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Thomas Fuller-Rowell, Ph.D.

RWJF Health & Society Scholar 2011-2013

Poverty and Health: The Mediating Role of Perceived Discrimination

 There is little research examining the influence of social-class discrimination on health, despite the prevalence of it in many societies around the world. This study explores perceived discrimination connection to socioeconomic status and health.

This study included 252 adolescent participants who were a part of the third wave of an ongoing longitudinal study of rural poverty. Males comprised 51 percent of the study group, while 49 percent were female. Measures explored in the study included poverty, perceived discrimination, and allostatic load, or the wear and tear on a body resulting from chronic overaction of a body’s physiological systems.

Key Findings:

  • Poverty was shown to be positively associated with allostatic load. Poverty predicted higher levels of perceived discrimination, and perceived discrimination were associated with high levels of allostatic load.
  • Mediation analyses suggest 13 percent of the effect of poverty on allostatic load is explained by perceived discrimination.
  • The effects of poverty on allostatic load remained after controlling for BMI and obesity.

This study shows that social discrimination can be a chronic stressor with a detrimental impact on physiological systems over time. More research is needed to rule out other third-variable explanations for the observed associations, and to expand the finding beyond a moderately-sized sample of rural adolescents.