*A new study covered by the New York Times shows that Black strivers are literally killing themselves prematurely in their efforts to out pace their socioeconomic backgrounds.
The Times article titled “Why Succeeding Against the Odds Can Make You Sick” details findings by Dr. Gene Brody, a professor at the University of Georgia. According to the piece his research shows that for African Americans increased their risk of everything from hypertension, to diabetes as a result of excessive striving for a often out of reach idea of success. One of the more interesting other findings is that white Americans are largely immune to striving having this negative effect on their health.
Over the past two years, Dr. Brody and colleagues have amassed more evidence supporting this theory. In 2015, they found that white blood cells among strivers were prematurely aged relative to those of their peers. Ominous correlations have also been found in cardiovascular and metabolic health. In December, Dr. Brody and colleagues published a study in the journal Pediatrics that said that among black adolescents from disadvantaged backgrounds, “unrelenting determination to succeed” predicted an elevated risk of developing diabetes.
The focus on black adolescents is significant. In much of this research, white Americans appeared somehow to be immune to the negative health effects that accompany relentless striving. As Dr. Brody put it when telling me about the Pittsburgh study, “We found this for black persons from disadvantaged backgrounds, but not white persons.”
Dr. Brody, who does much of his work in African-American communities in rural Georgia, focuses on people who overcome the odds to prosper, academically, professionally and financially. The personality trait that predicts this kind of success against the odds is known in psychology as resilience. Many consider it desirable. Dr. Brody’s summary of the classical tenets of resilient strivers sounds like something from a motivational poster: “They cultivate persistence, set goals and work diligently toward them, navigate setbacks, focus on the long term, and resist temptations that might knock them off course.”
In the United States, gaps in health and longevity between the wealthy and the poor are some of the greatest in the world. It seems natural to assume that jumping from one stratum to the next — being upwardly mobile — would come with gains in health. And conceivably it could work that way — like if a person won the lottery or achieved overnight fortune from writing a truly insightful tweet. But decades of research show that when resilient people work hard within a system that has not afforded them the same opportunities as others, their physical health deteriorates.
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