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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2019 Jan 1;74(1):170-180. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gby039.

Avoiding the Major Causes of Death: Does Childhood Misfortune Reduce the Likelihood of Being Disease Free in Later Life?

Author information

1
Department of Sociology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
2
Center on Aging and the Life Course, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
3
Department of Sociology, University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

Abstract

Objectives:

Although previous research reveals the detrimental effects of early misfortune on the development of chronic diseases in later life, few studies have investigated its effects on remaining disease free. This study draws on cumulative inequality theory to investigate whether experiencing childhood misfortune reduces the likelihood of remaining disease free over time.

Method:

This study utilizes five waves of data from the Health and Retirement Study to test whether five domains of childhood misfortune predict being disease free at baseline (2004) and developing disease over time (2004-2012).

Results:

Respondents reporting risky parental behaviors during childhood were less likely to be disease free at baseline and had an increased risk of disease onset over time, the latter driven by having a guardian who smoked in combination with more pack-years smoked in adulthood. Furthermore, we find that adult resources, that is wealth, help to mitigate the noxious effects of other misfortunes, notably poor socioeconomic conditions.

Discussion:

Consistent with cumulative inequality theory, these findings reveal that experiencing multiple types of misfortune during childhood decreases the likelihood of remaining disease free in later life, but engaging in health behaviors, such as physical activity, can help to ameliorate some of the noxious effects of early misfortune.

PMID:
29617874
PMCID:
PMC6294238
[Available on 2020-01-01]
DOI:
10.1093/geronb/gby039

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