Researchers at Ohio State University have been looking at stress and health for 30 years and can show that being chronically stressed wears down your immune system and makes you more likely to become ill and disease-prone.
They also found that children who had difficult childhoods eg through being abused or neglected, could develop hyperactive stress responses which could kick in later in life making them more vulnerable when subject to stress as adults.
And at the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Centre their research shows that early childhood experiences of stress or poverty influence the chances that we’ll develop chronic diseases as adults – whether or not we have a poor diet, don’t exercise, drink in excess, or smoke.
Cardiovascular disease is a case in point. If the family rented rather than owned a home, if the parents didn’t go to college or had less prestigious jobs, then the children’s own cardiovascular health was more likely to be compromised in adulthood – regardless of how successful they became and how much they had achieved on their own as adults.
Updated 16 November 2010: According to a study by the European Commission people who grow up in poverty have fewer chances to flourish at school, remain healthy, and avoid problems. As adults they face difficulty finding work and low and irregular income means they have meagre pensions putting 17% of elderly men and 22% of elderly women at risk.
A report in the Helsinki Times says that even in Finland, where there is high social mobility, children of families receiving income support are 2-2.5 times at risk of being on income support themselves – according to researchers at the National Institute for Health & Welfare.
They say that parents’ income levels count for about 15/20% of a child’s income levels because with free education in Finland an individual’s efforts carries more significance. Educational opportunities are seen as key to breaking the chain of cross-generational poverty, but even so one in eight Finns are now living below the poverty line according to EU and OECD standards.