First-generation College Students Have Greater Systemic Inflammation than Continuing-Generation College Students Following the Initial College Transition: A Brief Report

Jones & Schreier / Annals of Behavioral Medicine / April 2022

First-generation college students (“first-gens”) are often at a disadvantage socially and academically; whether they are at risk physiologically is unknown despite the well-established link between greater education and better long-term health. This study examines whether FGCS have higher levels of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk markers relative to CGCS. A panel of CVD risk markers was assessed among 87 emerging adults (41 first-gens) twice over their first year of college. Compared to continuing-gens, first-gens had greater systemic inflammation (composite of averaged z-scores for C-reactive protein and interleukin-6; B = 0.515, SE = 0.171, p = .003) during the fall but not spring semester (p > .05). Associations were independent of family home ownership and childhood adversity, even though first-gens were more likely to live in rental homes and reported riskier home environments. Lower childhood subjective social status (SSS) accounted for greater systemic inflammation among first-gens as evidenced by an indirect effect of college generation status on systemic inflammation through childhood SSS (a1b1 = 0.261, bootstrapped SE = 0.103, 95% boot CI [0.078, 0.482]). There were no differences in metabolic risk and latent virus regulation by college generation status in either semester (p > .10). This is the first study to find that first-gens have higher levels of systemic inflammation than continuing-gens following the college transition and that childhood SSS may be one explanatory pathway. First-gens may benefit from university resources that address social class differences, which should be provided early on so that first-gens can reap the health-relevant benefits of higher education, at least in the short term.