Socioeconomic status in early adolescence predicts blunted stress responses in adulthood. Developmental Psychobiology, 64(6).
Individuals who grow up in families with lower socioeconomic status (SES) tend to experience disproportionate rates of chronic stress. The “freeze” response, characterized by blunted cardiovascular reactivity and reduced engagement with the environment, is associated with chronic stress and may be utilized when an individual is unable to escape or overcome environmental stressors. Using a diverse community sample of 184 adolescents followed from the age of 13 to 29 years, along with their friends and romantic partners, this study examined links between family SES and stress responses in adulthood. Low family SES at the age of 13 years directly predicted blunted heart rate responding and fewer attempts to answer math problems during a modified version of the Trier Social Stress Task at the age of 29 years. Indirect effects were found from low family SES to blunted respiratory sinus arrhythmia responding and the number of words spoken during a speech task. SES at the age of 29 years mediated many of these relations. Findings held after accounting for a number of potential confounds, including adolescent academic and attachment functioning and body mass index. We interpret these findings as evidence that low familial SES may predict freezing-type responses in adulthood.