Social Weathering of Genes: Demographic and Social Correlates of Telomere Length in Children and Their Mothers

Colter Mitchell, University of Michigan
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University
John Hobcraft, University of York
Daniel A. Notterman, Princeton University

Recently research has shown that telomere length has an important association with indicators of aging and lifetime stress. Yet unknown is how early-life and young adulthood social environment is associated with telomere length (TL). This study uses a subsample of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study (n=347) to examine social and demographic predictors of TL when the child is age 9 (mothers range in age from 27-45). Results suggest that the social environment has a strong correlation with TL. In particular, the mental health environment (own and mother’s) is predictive of TL. As well, poverty and social class, harsh parenting, and partner/paternal incarceration are all associated with TL. These results are consistent with the concept that social context provides long-term exposure to and protection from health deteriorating stress.

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Presented in Session 21: Genes, Environment, Health and Development