Discrimination, health, and the costs and benefits of believing in system fairness

Tessa Dover, Portland State University
Brenda Major, University of California, Santa Barbara
Alyssa Glace, Portland State University
Publication Date:
Dec 2019
Published In:

For minority students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, attending university and succeeding despite social and academic stressors is often considered the ultimate marker of resilience. However, a growing body of work suggests that there may be health costs to upward mobility for such students. This study investigated whether believing that the social system is fair simultaneously promotes psychological health while undermining the physical health of Latinx students experiencing frequent discrimination. Two hundred thirty-three low-income and/or first-generation Latinx college students were followed through their first year at university. Discrimination experiences, psychological health, and physical health risk (a suite of inflammatory, biomorphic, and cardiovascular risk markers) were assessed upon entering university and at the end of the academic year. Regardless of discrimination experiences, believing in system fairness predicted higher end-of-year psychological health (controlling for initial psychological health). However, for students who experienced substantial discrimination at university, believing in system fairness also led to higher end-of-year physical health risk (controlling for baseline levels of discrimination and physical health risk). The study's authors conclude that beliefs that allow socioeconomically disadvantaged minority students to thrive psychologically may also put them at physical health risk when facing frequent discrimination.


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