BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE:

Subjective social status (SSS), a person’s sense of their (or for youth, their family’s) position in the socioeconomic hierarchy, is strongly related to health in adults but not health in adolescence. Understanding this developmental discrepancy requires first understanding the developmental trajectory of SSS. The objective of this study was to identify the number and shape of SSS trajectories as adolescents transition to adulthood and explore if trajectory membership affects health.

METHODS:

Using data from 7436 assessments from the Princeton School District Study, a decade-long cohort study of non-Hispanic black and white youth, latent class growth models with 3 to 7 SSS trajectories were developed. Model fit, trajectory structure, and shape were used to guide optimal model selection. Using this optimal model, the associations of trajectory membership with BMI and depressive symptoms in young adulthood were explored.

RESULTS:

The 5-class model was optimal. In this model, trajectories were persistent high (7.8%), mid–high (32.2%), middle (43.4%), low–lower (7.4%), and high–low (9.1%). Non-Hispanic black race/ethnicity, lower household income, and low parent education were associated with membership in this high–low trajectory. High–low trajectory membership was associated with higher BMI and depressive symptoms in non-Hispanic white subjects but was not associated with depressive symptoms. It was associated with lower BMI only after adjustment for BMI in adolescence in non-Hispanic black subjects.

CONCLUSIONS:

SSS is relatively stable in adolescence and the transition to adulthood, and it generally reflects objective markers of social advantage. However, socially disadvantaged youth with high SSS in early adolescence may be at increased health risk.

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