Group of young teenagers students using smartphone on a school break.

Young people who think their families are high status tend to have better mental health than teens with a more modest perception of their families. Credit: Getty

Human behaviour

Teenagers’ health is linked to how they view their families

Socioeconomic factors are less important than an adolescent’s assessment of their family’s place in society.

A teenager’s well-being can be predicted by their perception of their family’s social status.

Candice Odgers at the University of California, Irvine, and her colleagues examined data from 1,116 pairs of twins born in England and Wales, who had been followed across the first two decades of life. Eighteen-year-olds who thought their families were of high social standing were less likely to smoke marijuana and have conduct problems than those who gave a lower rating to their family’s rank. A relatively high perception of family status was also correlated with good mental health and participation in education or the workforce.

These correlations generally persisted even after controlling for participants’ actual socioeconomic circumstances. When the authors focused on twins who held divergent views of their family’s status, the teen who viewed the family’s standing more highly tended to fare better than their twin — despite growing up in an identical family environment.

Further studies are needed to test whether the relationship is causal, and whether raising teens’ views of their family status could improve their prospects in life.