A well-known finding in the aging literature on health disparities is that racial gaps in health remain at equal levels of socioeconomic status (SES) (House; Brown). Explanations for these gaps have been elusive, largely because the processes by which minoritized individuals attain higher levels of SES occur much earlier in the life course before SES is established and persistent racial gaps are observed. The mechanisms that might explain racial gaps in health at older ages likely occur during the transition to adulthood and the development of human and financial capital in young adulthood. Our research uses data from Add Health to examine this period in life when young people leave their families of origin to establish their own independent households and develop a pathway to upward mobility in social and economic status. Focusing on this young adult life stage, recent research has uncovered countervailing trends in health among minoritized groups who achieve upward mobility coined as "skin deep resilience" such that those from disadvantaged backgrounds who climb the social ladder and achieve higher levels of education experience improved mental health outcomes but poorer physical health outcomes compared to their peers who do not improve their social standing (Gaydosh et al. 2018). To date, understanding the explanatory mechanisms for how upward mobility could be deleterious for one's health has been limited. However, one broad mechanism that is likely at play is the greater stress that minoritized young people experience as they climb the social ladder due to structural racism and discrimination, cultural dissonance, social isolation, and the taxing high effort striving required to attain higher levels of social and economic status than one's (disadvantaged) family of origin. We examine in this research how intergenerational social and economic mobility among minoritized young adults in Add Health is related to more rapid biological aging in early midlife. Biological aging has been used as a marker of stress exposure over the life course with substantial evidence showing that social and economic disadvantage are associated with more rapid biological aging. Thus, we expect that epigenetic age will be an especially sensitive biomarker that is responsive to cumulative stress exposure over time in the young adult life course among those of equal social and economic status at a point in time in early midlife. We will measure intergenerational mobility across multiple domains, including education, income, occupation, and wealth. For the Add Health parent, this information comes from the Wave I Parent Survey conducted in 1994-95 when the parents were average age 45. Data on the Add Health adult child will come from Wave V of Add Health when respondents were in their late 30s, so the parent and child ages are ideally quite similar when we measure social and economic status to construct our intermobility measures. Epigenetic data also come from Wave V among the subsample who consented to a home visit and venous blood draw (N˜5,000). We plan to use mobility contrast models (MCM) which builds on Sobel's (1981) "diagonal reference model" by modeling mobility effects as a set of interaction contrasts between the origin and destination status (Luo 2022). Our fundamental models will regress a series of epigenetic clocks on mobility indicators and a set of covariates that affect both mobility and biological aging. We plan to use the Horvath, PhenoAge, and GrimAge clocks (and their PC clock equivalents), and the DunedinPACE rate of aging measure as our biological aging outcomes. To explore heterogenous effects, we will stratify the final models by race and ethnicity. This project will make a new contribution to the literature on racial and ethnic gaps in health at equal levels of SES by examining the life stage of young adulthood during which SES attainment occurs and exploring the role of stress processes proxied by markers of epigenetic aging among minoritized groups.
Kathleen Mullan Harris, University of North Carolina
Lauren Gaydosh, University of Texas
Reed DeAngelis, Duke University
Chantel Martin, University of North Carolina
Jason D. Boardman, University of Colorado Boulder
Allison E. Aiello, University of North Carolina