Relationship between upward mobility and mental health


Goodwin, Julia & Fletcher, Jason (2018). Relationship between upward mobility and mental health. 2018 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


Previous work has found evidence for the theory of “skin-deep” resilience [1]: the upwardly mobile from disadvantaged backgrounds (measured as parent’s SES, or school or neighborhood characteristics) are psychologically no different from their high SES counterparts, but fare worse in health outcomes (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes).[2, 3] However, how does the relationship between mental health and mobility change with different measures of social mobility? Researchers have studied this relationship using the combination of college completion and adolescent disadvantage to model upward mobility. This paper instead investigates the relationships between mental health and mobility in terms of changes in income and neighborhood disadvantage over the life course. Using data from Waves I and IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, I replicate earlier findings of the mental resilience of the upwardly mobility using an adolescent disadvantage index and college completion. I extend the literature by testing interactions between race and income and neighborhood social mobility. I operationalize upward mobility using income by dichotomizing household income at Wave I and Wave 4. Those whose parents had incomes in the bottom 50th percentile at Wave I and whose household income was in the top 50th percentile in Wave 4 are considered to be upwardly mobile. I created a similar mobility measure by dichotomizing a neighborhood disadvantage index: those who lived in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods in Wave I and live in less disadvantaged neighborhoods at Wave IV are considered upwardly mobile. Preliminary results show evidence that resilience spans other measures of upward mobility, including income and neighborhood disadvantage. Those who are upwardly mobile had similarly low counts of depressive symptoms compared to their downwardly mobile counterparts. This was true across all races. References 1. Brody, G.H., et al., Resilience in Adolescence, Health, and Psychosocial Outcomes. Pediatrics, 2016. 138(6). 2. Chen, E., et al., Neighborhood Poverty, College Attendance, and Diverging Profiles of Substance Use and Allostatic Load in Rural African American Youth. Clin. Psychol. Sci., 2015. 3(5): p. 675-685. 3. Miller, G.E., et al., Viral challenge reveals further evidence of skin-deep resilience in African Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds. Health Psychol., 2016. 35(11): p. 1225-1234.

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2018 Add Health Users Conference


Goodwin, Julia
Fletcher, Jason

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID