Cumulative Disadvantage and Youth Well-Being: A Multi-Domain Examination with Life Course Implications

Child Adolesc Social Work J. 2015 Dec;32(6):567-576. doi: 10.1007/s10560-015-0396-2. Epub 2015 Apr 29.


Purpose: The accumulation of disadvantage has been shown to increase psychosocial stressors that impact life course well-being. This study tests for significant differences, based on disadvantage exposure, on youths' emotional and physical health, as well as family supports, peer assets, and academic success, which hold potential for resilience and amelioration of negative health outcomes.

Methods: A 12 item cumulative disadvantage summed index derived from surveys of a racially and socioeconomically diverse sample of urban high school seniors (n=9,658) was used to distinguish youth at low, moderate, and high levels.

Results: Findings supported hypothesized stepped patterns such that as multiple disadvantages accumulate, a concomitant decline is evident across the assessed outcome variables (except positive academic identity). Post-hoc tests indicated a pattern of groups being significantly different from one another.

Discussion: Overall, results lend support for an additive stress load associated with stacked disadvantage, with implications for continuing trends into adulthood as well as preventive interventions.

Keywords: Stress; adversity; disadvantage; health; life course; youth.