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The relative importance of family socioeconomic status and school-based peer hierarchies for morning cortisol in youth: An exporatory study

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  • West, Patrick
  • Sweeting, Helen
  • Young, Robert
  • Kelly, Shona

Abstract

This paper examines the relative importance of family socioeconomic status (SES) and school-based peer hierarchies for young people's psychoneuroendocrine response, represented by cortisol level. Data are drawn from a study of 2824, 15-year-olds in 22 Scottish secondary schools in 2006 who provided information on family SES (parental occupation, material deprivation and family affluence) and social position in school hierarchies, together with two morning salivary cortisol samples. School social position was assessed by participants placing themselves on seven 'ladders', from which three factors were derived, termed scholastic, peer and sports hierarchies. Controlling for confounds, there was little or no variation in cortisol by any SES measure. By contrast, each school hierarchy was independently associated with cortisol, but in different ways. For the scholastic hierarchy, an inverse linear relationship was found for females, cortisol increasing with lower position. For peer hierarchy, an opposite (direct) linear relationship occurred for males, while for females elevated cortisol was associated only with 'top' position. For sports, elevated cortisol among males was associated with 'bottom' position, among females with all except the 'top'. These results are interpreted in the context of Sapolsky's (Sapolsky, 2005) predictions for stress responses to hierarchical position in stable and unstable social systems, the former represented by the scholastic hierarchy involving elevated cortisol in lower positions, the latter by peer hierarchy with elevated cortisol in higher positions. Overall, the results highlight the greater importance of school-based peer groups than family SES for young people's psychoneuroendocrine response.

Suggested Citation

  • West, Patrick & Sweeting, Helen & Young, Robert & Kelly, Shona, 2010. "The relative importance of family socioeconomic status and school-based peer hierarchies for morning cortisol in youth: An exporatory study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(8), pages 1246-1253, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:70:y:2010:i:8:p:1246-1253
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. West, Patrick & Sweeting, Helen, 2004. "Evidence on equalisation in health in youth from the West of Scotland," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 59(1), pages 13-27, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wiklund, Maria & Bengs, Carita & Malmgren-Olsson, Eva-Britt & Öhman, Ann, 2010. "Young women facing multiple and intersecting stressors of modernity, gender orders and youth," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(9), pages 1567-1575, November.
    2. Long, Emily & Gardani, Maria & McCann, Mark & Sweeting, Helen & Tranmer, Mark & Moore, Laurence, 2020. "Mental health disorders and adolescent peer relationships," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 253(C).
    3. Joseph Wolfe, 2015. "The Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Child and Adolescent Physical Health: An Organization and Systematic Comparison of Measures," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 123(1), pages 39-58, August.
    4. Oberle, Eva & Schonert-Reichl, Kimberly A., 2016. "Stress contagion in the classroom? The link between classroom teacher burnout and morning cortisol in elementary school students," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 30-37.
    5. Sweeting, Helen & Hunt, Kate, 2014. "Adolescent socio-economic and school-based social status, health and well-being," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 39-47.

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