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Why Low Social Status Causes Health Problems

University of Chicago researchers have found that one’s place in a social hierarchy influences the body’s response to illness and stress. Thus the best medicine may be a job promotion. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Scientists have determined that your social rank substantially affects your health, with those on the lower end being most prone to health problems. Using a population of macaque monkeys, researchers at the University of Chicago observed that social position caused different sets of genes to fire. In other words, gene expression in high-status monkeys was different than in the low-status group. “The relationship was robust enough to work the other way round, too. Given a blood sample and no other information, it was possible to predict an individual’s status within her group with an accuracy of 80%.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Scientists found that the genes which varied between high and low-status monkeys regulated a class of hormones called glucocorticoids, “which regulate immune-system activity and response to stress.” Perhaps most significantly, researchers observed the presence of certain chemical structures which are passed down through new generations of cells, implying that social status may be maintained in an individual’s biochemistry. While that smells like destiny, scientists also found that outside forces, such as a promotion in the social hierarchy, were enough to change those chemical compositions. 

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