Poverty, it turns out, is etched into our DNA.
"For each decrease of one year in parental home ownership, the participants' odds of developing a cold increased by approximately 9 percent."
That's not a metaphorical statement. Growing up poor leaves a permanent mark on our permanent genetic code, according to new research.
Socioeconomic status during childhood correlates with shorter sections of DNA, known as telomeres, later in life, explains a study published in the November issue of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Telomeres are the caps to a strand of DNA and, like a case covering an external hard drive, they protect the internal data from corrosion. Without getting too deep into the science, the length of the telomere is a rough indicator of the age and health of a human cell. Every time a cell splits into two, the telomere is slightly shortened. So DNA degrades as it divides. It's a component of human aging. It's also the reason why cloned animals like Dolly the sheep don't live as long as the originals — you make a baby animal with old DNA, and it ages faster.
More broadly, the telomere "is a marker of the functionality of certain immune cells," lead researcher Sheldon Cohen says. "The shorter these telomeres, the less functional these immune cells are. " And somehow poverty is inscribing itself on the code of mankind.
Cohen's study found that for each year a person spent living in a home their parents didn't own (a rough, yet relatively reliable indicator of socioeconomic status), the telomere length decreased by 5 percent.