In contrast to other unpleasant childhood experiences, poverty is linked to a higher risk of premature death in adulthood, according to a study of more than 46,000 people conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health.
Childhood poverty mixed with packed housing was linked to a 41% higher risk of premature mortality compared to children who did not experience early life adversity, and early poverty coupled with parental separation was linked to a 50% increase in premature death. A 28% higher risk of early death was associated with family instability, while a 16% higher risk was associated with parental harshness and neglect.
The findings add to past research that showed a relationship between specific types of bad childhood experiences and an increased risk of dying, as well as other research showing that the risk of dying increased with the amount of exposure to childhood adversity. The overall likelihood of premature death and other early childhood adversities are linked in the current study.
The study was published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas and was carried out by researchers Jing Yu, Ph.D., Dr. Gilman, and other NICHD colleagues.
Children of mothers who participated in the Collaborative Perinatal Project, an investigation into maternal and child health carried out by the NIH, comprised the study’s participants. Data that evaluated the children’s experiences from the time of their birth, from 1959 to 1966, to age seven were compared to data from death records obtained from 1979 to 2016 by the researchers. 3,344 deaths occurred among the 46,129 trial participants included in the analysis. The researchers created five categories of early childhood adversity based on information from questionnaires and other data gathered from the subjects’ mothers:
Low adversity: Not likely to have gone through any substantial adversities in childhood (48% of participants)
Physical and emotional abuse and neglect by parents are two negative experiences that many participants (4% of them) report having had.
Family instability includes being more likely to have gone through two or more changes in their parents’ marital status, parental divorce or separation, many moves, the death of a parent or sibling, or foster care (9% of participants).
Housing conditions that are both poor and congested are likely to have occurred (21% of participants).
The likelihood of experiencing poverty, receiving welfare, seeing a parent’s divorce or separation, and experiencing marital and residential changes was high (19% of participants).
The risk of premature mortality increased with the amount of traumatic childhood events in addition to those in the last four classes having a greater death risk. Two negative experiences increased the risk of early death by 27%, three negative experiences increased the risk of early death by 29%, and four negative experiences increased the risk of early death by 45%.
Yu, J., et al. (2022) Adverse childhood experiences and premature mortality through mid-adulthood: a five-decade prospective study. The Lancet Regional Health – Americas. doi.org/10.1016/j.lana.2022.100349.