The Dynamics of Child Poverty and Awakening Cortisol in Adolescence

Michael McFarland, University of Texas at Austin

This study asks how poverty in early life influences awakening cortisol (a measure of HPA functioning). The answer to this question has important theoretical implications for how social disparities in physical and mental health arise. The goals of this project are to investigate; (1) how poverty exposure and timing throughout life are related to waking cortisol in adolescence; and (2) how the relationship between poverty and awakening cortisol is shaped by maternal sensitivity. The preliminary findings suggest that chronic poverty is associated with lower awakening cortisol (a sign of hypocortisolism and HPA dysregulation) among women but not men. Moreover, the maternal sensitivity at ages 0-3 appeared to buffer the deleterious effects of poverty for women but not men. For men, high levels of maternal sensitivity were positively associated with cortisol for individuals from all classes.

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Presented in Session 6: Biodemographic Influences on Health and Mortality I