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Income within context: relative income matters for adolescent social satisfaction and mental health


Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

Published online on


Background Previous research has shown that a mismatch between one's own socioeconomic status (SES) and the SES of the surrounding context can lead to maladaptive outcomes, such as increased social stigma and low levels of belongingness (Johnson, Richeson, & Finkel, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 2011, 838; Ostrove, The Journal of Social Issues, 59, 2003, 771). This study examines an adolescent population, as contextual comparisons should be especially salient at this time. Methods Participants included over 900 adolescents at age 15 involved in a multisite longitudinal study. Results Results showed that lower relative income status predicted increased social dissatisfaction, internalizing and externalizing problems, after controlling for family SES. Moreover, the effect of relative income was indirectly related to these problems through social dissatisfaction. Exploratory multigroup analyses by gender suggested that the adolescent girls may be driving the effects of relative income. Conclusions Findings are discussed in regard to adolescent socioemotional functioning, as well as the implications for gender differences related to relative income status.