“Income Inequality: Social Status Changes Gene Expression, Research Finds” by Jessica Mallari


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In the article “Income Inequality: Social Status Changes Gene Expression, Research Findings,”  behavior differences are what distinguish class, and not just income.  Richard Wilkerson, co author of “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Do Better” visited Toronto for a lecture revolving around how income inequality breeds negative social judgments.  He found George, a shoe maker from Jamaica who admits to not entering the coffee shop because only rich people go in there.  George further explained that those “rich” people in the coffee shop view him as poor, and admits that he is poor and does not belong in that coffee shop.  To further understand George and those in the coffee shop, Richard explains, “We infer people’s abilities, intelligence and all sorts of  things from their social status.  That’s why low social status hurts and why it’s stigmatized.”  Richard clarifies that the unwelcoming behavior of the rich in the coffee shop is rooted in their inferences about those who look like they have a low status. Therefore, George acts upon their inferences of his low social status, which is demonstrated through their behavior. Not only has Richard found out this mentality and behavior, but he also has found that there are specific behavior differences due to the environments they are raised in.
These distinct behavior differences are rooted from an individual’s upbringing environment. For instance, in a study by Dr. Steve Somi, two groups of monkeys were tested: one group raised with their mothers, and one without. He found that there are 4,000 gene differences amongst these two groups. Dr. Somi specifically points out the two stark environments that produce these prominent differences. The two environments include an untrusting environment in which one has to constantly compete to get what one wants, or a nurturing environment that thrives off of compassion and empathy. These opposing environments produce different gene expressions. Dr. Steve explains that different environments turn certain genes on or off. Therefore, it explains the distinct behavior differences created in the environments.
I feel that this research makes logical sense because we do build our foundation from the environments we were raised up in. However, it is interesting to know the actual biology and gene interaction that explains why we develop the behaviors we have do to the environments. Interestingly enough, Richard interviewed a male from the lower class and found that he still goes to these upper class coffee shops. He goes here because he grew up with a well off family; therefore, his behavior and mentality he developed allow him to feel comfortable in an upper class environment comfortably. In conclusion, social class is not solely based upon income; however, it is based upon one’s upbringing environment. As a society, we can understand these behavioral differences, yet should not try to stigmatize, judge, or assume qualities because of these differences. Society must learn to understand different upbringings, and use these differences to promote positive changes in the environment.



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