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Psychosom Med. 2016 Nov/Dec;78(9):998-1007.

Socioeconomic Adversity, Negativity in the Parent Child-Relationship, and Physiological Reactivity: An Examination of Pathways and Interactive Processes Affecting Young Children's Physical Health.

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From the San Francisco State University (Hagan), San Francisco, California; and the University of California (Hagan, Roubinov, Adler, Boyce, Bush), San Francisco, California.



We tested the hypothesis that socioeconomic status (SES) would predict children's physical health problems at the end of kindergarten among children whose parent reported greater parent-child relationship (PCR) negativity and/or who exhibited greater parasympathetic (RSA) reactivity. We also tested whether RSA and PCR negativity mediated the SES-health association.


Data were collected from 338 children (mean [SD] age, 5.32 [.32] years) and their primary caregivers (87% biological mothers) during the fall and subsequent spring of kindergarten. In the fall, parents reported income and education level (SES) and PCR negativity, and RSA reactivity was assessed via a standardized challenge protocol for young children. In the fall and then spring, parents reported children's chronic medical conditions and physical health impairments. Multivariate regression was conducted within a structural equation-modeling framework to test hypotheses.


Significant interactions were found between SES and PCR negativity (b = -0.074, p = .035) and between SES and RSA reactivity (b = 0.169, p = .019) as predicts children's spring health impairment, adjusting for health in the preceding fall. Lower SES was associated with greater health impairment among children whose parents reported more PCR negativity (b = -0.110, p = .024) and children who showed greater RSA reactivity (b = -0.106, p = .011). Socioeconomic status was unrelated to physical health at low PCR negativity or RSA reactivity. Mediation models were not supported.


Parent-child relationship quality and individual differences in stress reactivity may modulate the influence of SES on physical health in childhood.

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