Poor, rural youths who display high levels of self-control and resiliencey may experience upwardly mobility, but the stressors they face can bring a host of physical ailments, according to a study published earlier this month by Northwestern University and the University of Georgia.
The study, which focused on nearly 300 black teenagers in rural Georgia, examined levels of self-control, substance use, and depression each year for five years. Researchers also looked at blood cells when the subjects turned 22 to determine the potential health impact that stress can have on disadvantaged youth, who often have to overcome more obstacles than their higher-income peers to become upwardly mobile. Researchers found that the poor young adults who demonstrated self-control and resiliency also had more rapidly aging cells, higher blood pressure, and a greater presence of stress hormones.
“Those kids—who come from really, really challenging backgrounds but nonetheless do well in terms of psychosocial outcomes—by their early 20s have cells that look quite aged relative to their chronological age,” Gregory Miller, one of the report’s authors, told The Atlantic. One explanation, Miller said, could be that it takes more energy for disadvantaged students to accomplish the same feats as their suburban peers.
The authors of the study concluded that even after certain accomplishments, such as graduating from college, low-income youth may continue to experience constant stress. “To achieve upward mobility, these youth must overcome multiple obstacles and often do so with limited support from their schools, peers, and families,” wrote the authors of the study. “Even if they succeed, these youths may go on to experience alienation in university and workplace settings and discrimination if they are African American.”
The report found that for higher-income youths, better self-control had the opposite effect, and led to “favorable” health outcomes. For low-income youths who experienced upward mobility, despite the health ailments, researchers found some positive affects, like less substance use, depression and aggression.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.