Communalism Predicts Prenatal Affect, Stress, and Physiology Better Than Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status

Being culturally interconnected with others can be beneficial to a pregnant woman’s health and well-being.

Research on socioeconomic differences in health do not capture culture—the values, attitudes, beliefs, world view and place in the social world that ascribe meaning to life experiences. Thus, little is known about how culture affects health and whether it does so in the same way for all people. To fill some of this gap, researchers looked at how ethnicity, socioeconomic status and communalism (a cultural orientation emphasizing interdependence) contribute to prenatal mental health and physiology. They hypothesized that communalism should predict prenatal emotional health and physiology, particularly for ethnic minorities and those with lower socioeconomic status.

At three intervals, 297 African-American (23%) and European-American (73%) expectant women participating in a five-year study of pregnancy in two hospitals in Southern California were interviewed and their medical charts reviewed. Socioeconomic status, communalism, depressive symptoms, perceived stress, anxiety and global well-being were assessed using established tools.

Communalism was found to be a stronger predictor of prenatal negative affect and stress than ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Higher communalism was associated with lower prenatal blood pressure among African-American women and women who experienced socioeconomic disadvantage. European-American women, however, measured significantly higher than African-Americans in communalism. That is likely because higher socioeconomic status provides more opportunities for positive social relationships.

The researchers conclude that the findings hint at the intriguing possibility that cultural resources may help to buffer status-based stressors, thereby minimizing ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in health and well-being.

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