Determinants of health in early adulthood: what is the role of parental education, childhood adversities and own education?

Eur J Public Health. 2006 Jun;16(3):306-15. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cki164. Epub 2005 Sep 1.


Background: Of the many studies assessing the impact of childhood living conditions on health and health inequalities in adulthood, only few have combined information on current determinants of health with detailed individual level data on different aspects of childhood living conditions and adversities. This study aims (i) to assess the role of parental education, self-reported childhood adversities and family structure as determinants of different dimensions of health in early adulthood, and (ii) to identify the role of the respondent's own education as a modifier of the association between childhood living conditions and health.

Methods: The study is based on a representative sample (n = 3669; participation rate 83%) of young adults aged 18-39 years in 2000 in Finland. The main outcome measures were poor self-rated health (SRH), psychological distress (by GHQ12) and somatic morbidity.

Results: Parental education, problems in childhood and the respondent's own education were independently related to SRH and psychological distress. The impact of childhood living conditions on health varied by gender and according to the measure of health. Childhood conditions were strongly associated with poor SRH and psychological distress, whereas the connection with somatic morbidity was weaker. The associations remained relatively unchanged after controlling for the respondent's own education.

Conclusions: Childhood living conditions and adversities are strongly associated with poor SRH and psychological distress in early adulthood. Early recognition of childhood adversities followed by relevant support measures may play an important role in preventing health problems in adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Education*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Change Events*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Parents*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires