Social adversity in adolescence increases the physiological vulnerability to job strain in adulthood: a prospective population-based study

PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35967. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035967. Epub 2012 Apr 25.


Background: It has been argued that the association between job strain and health could be confounded by early life exposures, and studies have shown early adversity to increase individual vulnerability to later stress. We therefore investigated if early life exposure to adversity increases the individual's physiological vulnerability job strain in adulthood.

Methodology/principal findings: In a population-based cohort (343 women and 330 men, 83% of the eligible participants), we examined the association between on the one hand exposure to adversity in adolescence, measured at age 16, and job strain measured at age 43, and on the other hand allostatic load at age 43. Adversity was operationalised as an index comprising residential mobility and crowding, parental loss, parental unemployment, and parental physical and mental illness (including substance abuse). Allostatic load summarised body fat, blood pressure, inflammatory markers, glucose, blood lipids, and cortisol regulation. There was an interaction between adversity in adolescence and job strain (B = 0.09, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.16 after adjustment for socioeconomic status), particularly psychological demands, indicating that job strain was associated with increased allostatic load only among participants with adversity in adolescence. Job strain was associated with lower allostatic load in men (β = -0.20, 95% CI -0.35 to -0.06).

Conclusions/significance: Exposure to adversity in adolescence was associated with increased levels of biological stress among those reporting job strain in mid-life, indicating increased vulnerability to environmental stressors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Allostasis / physiology
  • Employment*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*