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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2005 Oct;60 Spec No 2:125-9.

Early adversity and later health: the intergenerational transmission of adversity through mental disorder and physical illness.

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Iowa State University, Ames, USA.



The authors' objective was to investigate processes that account for the transmission of socioeconomic adversity from one generation to the next through mental disorder and physical illness.


The present longitudinal study of 485 youth used structural equation models to test an intergenerational model proposing that: (a) stressful childhood experiences in the family of origin contribute to the development of mental disorder and physical illness during adolescence both directly and indirectly through disruption in an adolescent's transition to young adulthood; (b) during the transition to adulthood, mental disorders and physical illnesses increase in part through reciprocal influence; and (c) both the levels of and changes in mental disorder and physical illness are independently associated with adverse life circumstances during early adulthood.


Findings generally supported the hypothesized model. Family of origin adversity contributed to the impaired mental and physical health of adolescents. This influence was largely mediated through adolescents' disrupted transition to young adulthood. Levels of both mental and physical illnesses independently contributed to young adult adversity. Levels of physical health problems influenced changes in mental disorders. Changes in both mental and physical illnesses are also associated with young adult adversity.


The study demonstrates key mediating pathways in the intergenerational transmission of social adversity and also highlights the importance of improving both socioeconomic and health resources for adolescents.

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