The study, conducted by Dr. Thomas Fuller-Rowell, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is published online in Psychological Science.
Although earlier studies have found an association between poor health and poverty, this is the one of the first studies to examine the health impacts of class discrimination.
The researchers examined 252 teenagers, all 17 years old from upstate New York who were enrolled in the Cornell University study of rural poverty. The majority of study participants were white, so the team did not examine the effect of race.
Fuller-Rowell, who is also a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, explained:
"The findings of our study suggest that the stress caused by social-class discrimination may be an important factor in explaining the negative influence of poverty on health.
Experiences of discrimination are often subtle rather than blatant, and the exact reason for unfair treatment is often not clear to the victim."
As a result, the researchers measured general perceptions of discrimination. For instance, participants were asked: "How often do people treat you differently because of your background?"
The researchers examined participants urine samples and conducted other tests in order to evaluate stress on the body. These tests included measurers of blood pressure and stress-related hormones, such as epinephrine, cortisol, and norepinephrine.
Combined, these factors can measure how frequent exposure to stress can impact an individuals' health, also know as a person's "allostatic load."
The researchers found that the poorer the teens, the more they suffered from discrimination, the worse their health measures were. According to Fuller-Rowell's model, perceived discrimination is responsible for approximately 13% of the negative health effects of poverty on health.
"Our findings suggest that the stigma associated with poverty can lead to class discrimination, which, over time, can impact an individual's health."
According to fuller-Rowell, earlier studies have failed to take into consideration the effect of social discrimination on the poor and that this type of discrimination is usually not present in the public discourse like racial discrimination is.
In order to help children in poverty cope with discrimination, individuals in the United States need to get better at discussing class discrimination and its effects, explained Fuller-Rowell.
"Americans tend not to be comfortable talking about social class, because this is supposed to be a class-less country. But in terms of mitigating the effects of class discrimination, talking about it in schools and in the media is a beginning."
Written By Grace Rattue