Gender Differences in the Association between Childhood Adversities and Adult Health

Esther M. Friedman, RAND Corporation
Connor Sheehan, University of Texas at Austin
Tara Gruenewald, University of California, Los Angeles
Teresa E. Seeman, University of California, Los Angeles

Mounting evidence finds that adverse early-life experiences, such as material deprivation or parental abuse, indelibly influence later-life health, often irrespective of adult circumstances. However, we know little about how early-life adversities collectively shape adult health (e.g., additively, nonlinearly), or whether they shape health similarly for women and men. Using MIDUS data, this study examines how childhood adversities are associated with three indicators of cardiometabolic health—diabetes, heart disease and obesity—for women and men. We test five specifications of adverse childhood experiences, and show that functional form matters. For instance, we see a jump in the magnitude of the effect of four vs. five adversities for diabetes and obesity, while the relationship is fairly linear for heart disease. Gender matters too. The association between childhood adversity and heart disease is stronger for women than men; whereas, the association between childhood adversity and obesity is stronger for men than women.

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Presented in Session 63: Gender Disparities in Health and Mortality