Stress proliferation theory suggests that parental incarceration may have deleterious intergenerational health consequences. In this study, I use data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH) to estimate the relationship between parental incarceration and children's fair or poor overall health, a range of physical and mental health conditions, activity limitations, and chronic school absence. Descriptive statistics show that children of incarcerated parents are a vulnerable population who experience disadvantages across an array of health outcomes. After adjusting for demographic, socioeconomic, and familial characteristics, I find that parental incarceration is independently associated with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavioral or conduct problems, developmental delays, and speech or language problems. Taken together, results suggest that children's health disadvantages are an overlooked and unintended consequence of mass incarceration and that incarceration, given its unequal distribution across the population, may have implications for population-level racial-ethnic and social class inequalities in children's health.
Keywords: National Survey of Children’s Health; children’s health; parental incarceration; stress process theory; stress proliferation.
© American Sociological Association 2014.