Cultural and Community Determinants of Subjective Social Status Among Cherokee and White Youth

Published in: Ethnicity and Health, v. 13, no. 4, Sep. 2008, p. 289-303

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2007

by Ryan Andrew Brown, Nancy E Adler, Carol M Worthman, William E Copeland, E. Jane Costello, Adrian Angold

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BACKGROUND: Subjective social status (SSS) is associated with physical and mental health in diverse samples. However, community, cultural, and ethnic influences on SSS are poorly understood, especially among rural and American Indian populations. OBJECTIVE: The authors aimed to examine similarities and differences in how community poverty, family context, and life course attainment predict SSS among Cherokee and White youth in Appalachia. DESIGN: The authors assessed culturally and developmentally appropriate aspects of life course attainment among 344 Cherokee and White youth (age 19-24) using the Life Trajectory Interview for Youth (Brown et al. 2006. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 15, 192-206). Combined with information regarding community context and family history, these data were used to examine common patterns and ethnic differences in community, family, and cultural influences on SSS. RESULTS: Overall, both Cherokee and White youth rank their families lower in SSS than previously studied US youth. Family poverty during childhood and low parental education negatively influence family SSS, Cherokee youth rank higher on subjective socioeconomic status (SES) than Whites, as do participants in high poverty areas. However, White youth rank higher on peer SSS. Ethnographically generated items perform better than standard demographic markers in predicting SSS. Educational attainment is associated with peer SSS among Cherokee (but not White) youths. CONCLUSIONS: Cultural identity, community context, and local reference groups are crucial determinants of SSS. Both White and Cherokee youth in Appalachia exhibit SSS rankings consistent with socioeconomic and cultural marginalization. On a local scale, however, living in high poverty areas or minority communities may buffer individuals from some negative social comparisons regarding subjectively perceived SES. Meanwhile, social monitoring in small minority communities may constrain optimistic bias in assessments of peer popularity and status. Social ecology, family context, and individual attainment appear to exert distinctive influences on SSS across different cultural and ethnic groups.

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