Rethinking the "Long Arm" of Childhood: Cumulative Disadvantage, Gender, and Health in Midlife

Nicole Etherington, University of Western Ontario
Andrea Willson, University of Western Ontario
Kim Shuey, University of Western Ontario

In this study, we examine how the timing and duration of childhood economic hardship differentiates those at low and high risk of onset of multiple chronic disease midlife for women and men. The study uses prospective data on childhood and adulthood from the US Panel Study of Income Dynamics and discrete time hazard models to examine the effect of childhood economic hardship on the risk of disease onset in midlife. Results indicate that childhood economic context results in an increased risk of multiple diseases for women but not for men. Women who experienced long-term economic hardship in childhood, or moved out of poverty in childhood, were more likely to experience the onset of diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular diseases in midlife, net of other factors, such as adult resources. This study emphasizes the importance of measuring childhood disadvantage as dynamic, and reveals that cumulative disadvantage may be a gendered process.

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Presented in Session 213: Cumulative Inequalities, Life Course, and Aging