Does the influence of childhood adversity on psychopathology persist across the lifecourse? A 45-year prospective epidemiologic study

Ann Epidemiol. 2010 May;20(5):385-94. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2010.02.008.


Purpose: Prospective evidence about whether the association of childhood adversity and psychopathology attenuates across the lifecourse and whether effects on mid-life psychopathology are mediated through adolescent and early adulthood psychopathology is limited.

Methods: Data were from the 1958 British Birth Cohort, a 45-year study of 98% of births in 1 week in 1958 in England, Scotland, and Wales. Outcomes included International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) diagnoses for affective and anxiety disorders at 45 years and psychopathology at 16 years and 23 years. Multiple multi-informant measures of childhood adversity were available at 7, 11, and 16 years, with additional retrospective measures of parental sexual and physical abuse at 45 years. Analyses were determined on the basis of N = 9377; 59% of the surviving sample.

Results: After adjustment for socioeconomic covariates, childhood adversities were associated with adolescent, early adulthood, and mid-life psychopathology: most associations did not attenuate with age. Mid-life associations were significantly fully or partially mediated by early adulthood psychopathology: cumulative adversity, illness, sexual abuse, and physical abuse remained significantly associated with mid-life psychopathology.

Conclusions: The findings confirm the importance of preventing exposure to adversity and suggest that effects of adversity on mid-life psychopathology may operate through psychopathology in early adulthood. Future research is needed to examine other intermediary factors which may explain these associations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mood Disorders / etiology*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Young Adult