The study of adult health is being transformed by an emerging body of research linking early- life events and experiences with outcomes in adulthood and later life. The overall aim of this research is to build 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 adversity on the life course, but relatively little attention has been given to the situational and reflexive aspects of the self that may shape psychosomatic processes. The proposed research draws upon cumulative inequality theory to examine the role that psychosocial and socioeconomic resources play in mediating the relationship between multiple childhood adversities and adult health. Data for this study come from two waves of the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS). MIDUS surveyed 3,034 adults (ages 25-74) in 1995, and 2,257 respondents were re-interviewed in 2005, providing a decade of observation and the opportunity to observe incident morbidity, change in disability and self-reported health, and the modification of perceived life trajectories. This study has three specific aims: 1. To identify which early adversities are most consequential to adult health and explicate the accumulation processes associated with early adversity. 2. To examine the extent to which resources and perceptions of life trajectories mediate the relationship between childhood adversity and adult health. 3. To consider whether more positive perceptions of life trajectories reduce the rate of health decline between waves and counteract the noxious effects of early disadvantage. The hypotheses, derived from the above aims, will be tested with a variety of multivariate analytic techniques to estimate direct and indirect effects of early adversity on adult health, with formal tests of mediation.

Public Health Relevance

This research attempts to explicate how childhood conditions shape health conditions during adulthood. Clarifying the link between early disadvantage and adult disease will enable development of effective strategies to reduce health problems for future generations. As healthcare policymakers continue to search for affordable cost- containment strategies, it is becoming increasingly important to understand adult health and illness in a life course perspective.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
Program Officer
Nielsen, Lisbeth
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Purdue University
Other Health Professions
Schools of Arts and Sciences
West Lafayette
United States
Zip Code
Morton, Patricia M; Ferraro, Kenneth F (2018) Does Early-Life Misfortune Increase the Likelihood of Psychotropic Medication Use in Later Life? Res Aging 40:558-579
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
Ferraro, Kenneth F; Wilkinson, Lindsay R (2015) Alternative Measures of Self-Rated Health for Predicting Mortality Among Older People: Is Past or Future Orientation More Important? Gerontologist 55:836-44
South, Susan C; Schafer, Markus H; Ferraro, Kenneth F (2015) Genetic and Environmental Overlap Between Childhood Maltreatment and Adult Physical Health. Twin Res Hum Genet 18:533-44
Morton, Patricia M; Mustillo, Sarah A; Ferraro, Kenneth F (2014) Does childhood misfortune raise the risk of acute myocardial infarction in adulthood? Soc Sci Med 104:133-41
Ferraro, Kenneth F (2014) The time of our lives: recognizing the contributions of Mannheim, Neugarten, and Riley to the study of aging. Gerontologist 54:127-33
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
Schafer, Markus H; Morton, Patricia M; Ferraro, Kenneth F (2014) Child maltreatment and adult health in a national sample: heterogeneous relational contexts, divergent effects? Child Abuse Negl 38:395-406
Kim, Seoyoun; Ferraro, Kenneth F (2014) Do productive activities reduce inflammation in later life? Multiple roles, frequency of activities, and C-reactive protein. Gerontologist 54:830-9
Schafer, Markus H; Ferraro, Kenneth F (2013) Childhood misfortune and adult health: enduring and cascadic effects on somatic and psychological symptoms? J Aging Health 25:3-28

Showing the most recent 10 out of 16 publications