Risky early family environment and psychosocial adjustment in adulthood: does parental income matter?
Early family environments that increase risk for poor mental and physical health are characterized by conflict, aggression, and relationships that are unsupportive, neglectful, and lacking in warmth. These family characteristics are more common at lower socioeconomic status (SES). As such, most research on risky family environments has exclusively examined low SES families, a strategy that does not allow researchers to examine potential independent or joint effects of these two risk factors. The current study examines associations between parental income, risk factors in the early family environment, and negative affect (hostility, anger and shame and guilt) in young adulthood. The interaction between parental income and early risky family environment was significant for each of the three outcomes tested (hostility, anger, and shame & guilt). Those from high-income environments experienced significantly more negative affect when exposed to higher family risk levels. Those who reported average levels of parental income showed no association between negative affect and risky early family environment, suggesting they are less sensitive to their environmental context. Moderated mediation analyses revealed that self-criticism mediated the moderated relationship between parental income and early family environment on negative affect in a similar fashion. Those who reported higher levels of parental income and higher family risk also reported higher levels of self-criticism, which mediated associations with negative affect. Results are interpreted as consistent with the Biological Sensitivity to Context Theory, which states that individuals whose environments are characterized as highly supportive and rewarding (e.g., high socioeconomic status) or highly stressful and threatening (e.g., low socioeconomic status) should be the most reactive to stressors, with moderate stress environments (e.g., moderate socioeconomic status) associated with little reactivity to environmental stressors