Specifying the Psychosocial Pathways Whereby Child and Adolescent Adversity Shape Adult Health Outcomes


Social scientists generally agree that health disparities are produced, at least in part, by adverse social experiences, especially during childhood and adolescence. Building on this research, we use an innovative method to measure early adversity while drawing upon a biopsychosocial perspective on health to formulate a model that specifies indirect pathways whereby childhood and adolescent adversity become biologically embedded and influence adult health.


Using nearly 20 years of longitudinal data from 382 Black Americans, we use repeated-measures latent class analysis (RMLCA) to construct measures of childhood/adolescent adversities and their trajectories. Then, we employ structural equation modeling to examine the direct and indirect effects of childhood/adolescent adversity on health outcomes in adulthood through psychosocial maladjustment.


RMLCA identified two classes for each component of childhood/adolescent adversity across the ages of 10 to 18, suggesting that childhood/adolescent social adversities exhibit a prolonged heterogeneous developmental trajectory. The models controlled for early and adult mental health, sociodemographic and health-related covariates. Psychosocial maladjustment, measured by low self-esteem, depressive and anxiety symptoms, and lack of self-control, mediated the relationship between childhood/adolescent adversity, especially parental hostility, racial discrimination, and socioeconomic class, and both self-reported illness and blood-based accelerated biological aging (with proportion mediation ranging from 8.22% to 79.03%).


The results support a biopsychosocial model of health and provide further evidence that, among Black Americans, early life social environmental experiences, especially parenting, financial stress, and racial discrimination, are associated with adult health profiles, and furthermore, psychosocial mechanisms mediate this association.