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Socioeconomic status ( SES ) and income inequality are now recognized as important determinants of health, and there is growing interest in uncovering the intermediary psychosocial pathways through which the socioeconomic context affects physical well-being ( Marmot in The status syndrome: how social standing affects our health and longevity, Henry Holt, New York, 2004; Wilkinson and Pickett in The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better, Allen Lane, London, 2009 ). We adopted the applied framework of self-determination theory ( SDT; Deci and Ryan in Psychol Inq 11:227–268, 2000 ) and hypothesized that fulfillment of the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness would mediate the relationships that SES and income inequality have to self-rated health. An online community sample of American participants ( N = 1,139 ) completed a detailed demographic survey and provided self-reports of need fulfillment and health complaints. Structural equation models controlled for impression management and self-deceptive enhancement. Controlling for sex and age, need fulfillment was predicted positively by subjective SES and objective household income and negatively by state-level income inequality; in turn, need fulfillment predicted lower levels of health complaints. These findings suggest that SDT provides a useful framework for the study of SES, income inequality, and health, and that basic psychological needs are an important mechanism through which socioeconomic contexts influence health.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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