Childhood Misfortune and Adult Health among Black, White, and Hispanic Americans Project Summary/Abstract Applying the life course perspective to the study of adult health has uncovered important links between early-life experiences and health outcomes in later life. Although most of the extant research focuses on these links among White adults, the present study examines how these links may vary for Black, White, and Hispanic adults. The project builds upon epidemiologic models of the life course to explicate the mechanisms by which multiple forms of early adversity compromise health. Previous research has demonstrated the gravity of early misfortune on the life course, but relatively little attention has been given to racial and ethnic differences in both accumulated misfortune and the effects of such on adult health. The proposed research draws upon cumulative inequality theory to examine these racial and ethnic differences in accumulated misfortune and health in later life while examining how resources (both socioeconomic and psychosocial), perceived racial discrimination, and adult behavior influence the outcomes. Data for this research come from four waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) between 2004 and 2010. The study uses data from 19,630 adults (ages 51 and older) in 2004, and 14,985 respondents who were re-interviewed in 2010, providing six years of observation and the opportunity to observe both health changes (e.g., morbidity, disability and self-rated health) and mortality. This study has three specific aims: 1. To examine which types and patterns of childhood misfortune are most consequential to health and mortality among Black, White, and Hispanic adults. 2. To identify which adult behaviors and socioeconomic and psychosocial resources may mediate the links between childhood misfortune and both health and mortality in later life. 3. To test the role of perceived racial discrimination as a moderator of relationships between childhood misfortune and adult health and mortality among Black, White, and Hispanic adults. The hypotheses, derived from the above aims, will be tested with a variety of multivariate analytic techniques to estimate direct and indirect effects of childhood misfortune on adult health and mortality, with formal tests of mediation and moderation.

Public Health Relevance

This research examines the link between misfortune during childhood (including physical abuse, financial strain, and poor health) and health in later life among Black, White, and Hispanic Americans. Clarifying these links will enable development of effective strategies to reduce health problems among the three groups of Americans. As healthcare policymakers continue to search for affordable cost-containment strategies, it is increasingly important to identify the early origins of adult health, especially across racial and ethnic groups.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-SPIP-M (02))
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Patmios, Georgeanne E
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Purdue University
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
West Lafayette
United States
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Ferraro, Kenneth F; Schafer, Markus H (2017) Visions of the Life Course: Risks, Resources, and Vulnerability. Res Hum Dev 14:88-93
Ferraro, Kenneth F; Schafer, Markus H; Wilkinson, Lindsay R (2016) Childhood Disadvantage and Health Problems in Middle and Later Life: Early Imprints on Physical Health? Am Sociol Rev 81:107-133
Vuolo, Mike; Ferraro, Kenneth F; Morton, Patricia M et al. (2014) Why do older people change their ratings of childhood health? Demography 51:1999-2023