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Race, socioeconomic status, depression and suicidality among youths: Meta-analytic depiction of a skewed, rather than a 'bell curve'

Adelina Greco, BSW1, Kevin M. Gorey, PhD, MSW1, Max J. Hedley, PhD2, and Kim Harper, PhD1. (1) School of Social Work, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada, 519 253-3000, ext. 3085, greco7@uwindsor.ca, (2) Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada

Contemporary welfare state policy reforms have been consistent with shifts toward conservative governments. And practically, they have emphasized cutting costs, rather than the advancements of benefits. Their foundation was laid by theorizing that emphasized personal, biologically mediated (genetic) determinants of a myriad of interrelated personal and social ills, including mental health problems (e.g., “The bell curve,” Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). Other diverse disciplinary theorists have advanced social-structural explanations for the health of populations. A meta-analysis of 31 North American studies (1980 to 2003) on the correlates/determinants of depression and suicide among youths provided a sentinel test of these theoretical alternatives. The respective aggregate strength of the familial socioeconomic status (SES)- and SES-adjusted race- associations (sample-weighted r2 [%]) were: depression (10.2%, 0.5%) and suicide (24.2%, 0.7%). Socioeconomic factors accounted for 20 to 35-fold more criterion variability than did race or ethnicity. This review also systematically concluded that the observed generational increases in suicide rates over such a brief temporal period, particularly among African American and Aboriginal youths, are not at all consistent with genetic phenomena. They are probably only explainable by contemporary social phenomena, including social policy changes. These findings are consistent with so-called liberal social welfare theory. Moreover, they clearly demonstrate that ‘race’ is primarily a social construction in North American life. Racial or ethnic inequities that persist are probably not racial effects, per se, but the tenacious reflections of such social phenomena as differential access to key life chances. Social policy and clinical implications will be discussed.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Social Class, Suicide

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Community and Social Justice

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA