Inequality, stress, and opportunity among Chinese university women
Randall, Jennifer M
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Rural and urban communities within China are worlds apart in most cultural and material dimensions. Each year university students migrate between these sectors. Understanding the psychosocial health consequences of this transition is an important theoretical as well as public health question. To test rural/urban differences and explore other cultural dimensions, 180 Chinese freshmen university women were recruited. Methods incorporated anthropometric measurements, two biological markers of psychosocial stress (blood pressure and Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) Antibodies) and a qualitative assessment of cultural dimensions. Those measures included material style of life, social support, coping, psychological status and family-child incongruity. Findings indicate that rural and urban women differ significantly in several demographic (age, P=0.004, household size, P<0.001) material/financial (material style of life, a summed assessment of 25 household goods, P<0.001; reported annual income, P<0.001; monthly spending money, P<0.001) and anthropometric indicators (height, P=0.006; weight, P=0.001; BMI, P=0.047; upper arm circumference, P=0.004; triceps skinfold, P=0.002; subscapular skinfold, P<0.001; percentage body fat, P<0.001; arm fat area, P=0.003; knee height, P=0.005; calf circumference, P<0.001; age of menarche, P=0.011). Rural women are smaller and have less body fat, come from larger families with a higher financial burden. In a ranking of ten sources of stress, rural women rank "financial burden" 1.52 points higher than their urban counterparts (P<0.001). These significant cultural differences did not however coincide with differences in biological markers of stress. Blood pressure revealed no rural/urban difference. However multiple regression analysis with a family-child incongruity index on diastolic blood pressure revealed a significant relationship (β=.150, P<0.05). In support of much of the research (Dressler 1995; McDade 2001) on stress and culture change, the incongruity model proved to be a strong predictor for pressure. Conclusion . The ecological model of stress, i.e. comparisons of rural vs. urban, even with evidence of significantly different material/cultural environments is not enough to predict those who experience higher stress in the context of culture change. Models which incorporate more nuanced measures of incongruity and inconsonance are the best predictors of stress. Further consideration should be given to the larger cultural constructs, including the concepts of inequality, stress and opportunity.