Variations in Links between Achievement and Health
Theories of upward mobility argue that academic and employment success grant individuals improved health, yet emerging evidence suggests that striving for such mobility in the context of marginalization may actually dysregulate physiological stress responses and compromise health. It is still unclear whether these associations operate as a function of cumulative exposure to risk (including both socioeconomic and racial/ethnic marginalization), or whether they would emerge outside of such collective risk. Further, little is known about how the school context, one of the most central contexts in adolescent development, affects associations between mobility and health, despite evidence that opportunities for socioeconomic comparisons or for discrimination at school may further exacerbate these associations. Drawing on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a longitudinal survey of a nationally representative school-based sample of adolescents in the United States (N=14,797), the current study sought to clarify links between achievement and physiological health. Multilevel regression analyses considered prospective associations between achievement and health while attending to potential variation in links across the socioeconomic spectrum and across racial/ethnic groups. Additionally, school-level factors were taken into account and explored as potential augmenting mechanisms in these links. Findings suggested promotive links between achievement and physiological health, but also suggested that such links were not shared broadly by all youth. Although links did not vary across the socioeconomic spectrum, Asian American youth demonstrated some greater health payoffs of achievement compared to their non-Hispanic White peers, while non-Hispanic Black and Mexican American youth largely experienced reversed links. These results suggest additional evidence that striving for academic achievement while experiencing racial/ethnic marginality may engender dysregulation of the stress-response system. Thus, findings are discussed in relation to the social and historical contexts that may contribute to such divergent links. However, the school-level factors considered did not moderate links among achievement, individual characteristics, and physiological health, pointing to the importance of future research considering alternate social and contextual mechanisms in these relationships.