Longitudinal and Life Course Studies
An international journal

The lasting imprint of childhood disadvantage: cumulative histories of exposure to childhood adversity and trajectories of psychological distress in adulthood

Authors: Loanna S. Heidinger PhD1 and Andrea E. Willson PhD1
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  • 1 University of Western Ontario, Canada
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This study contributes to the literature on the long-term effects of childhood disadvantage on mental health by estimating the association between patterns of cumulative childhood adversity on trajectories of psychological distress in adulthood. There is little research that investigates how compositional variations in the accumulation of childhood adversity may initiate distinct processes of disadvantage and differentially shape trajectories of psychological distress across the adult life course. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics’ Childhood Retrospective Circumstance Study and latent class analysis, we first identify distinct classes representing varied histories of exposure to childhood adversities using 25 indicators of adversity across multiple childhood domains. Next, the latent classes are included as predictors of trajectories of psychological distress in adulthood. The results demonstrate that patterns of experiences of childhood adversity are associated with higher levels of adult psychological distress that persists, and in some cases worsens, in adulthood, contributing to disparities in mental health across the life course.

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  • 1 University of Western Ontario, Canada

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