Maternal imprisonment, economic marginality, and unmet health needs in early adulthood

Prev Med. 2017 Jun;99:43-48. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.01.018. Epub 2017 Feb 8.


There is relatively little research on access to the health care needed by children whose mothers have been incarcerated, and even fewer studies of how effects of lack of access continue and cumulate as these children transition from living with parents, parent surrogates, or foster care into adulthood. We find in a nationally representative U.S. panel study (n=9418 participants from 1995 to 2007-2008 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health) that young adult children of incarcerated mothers are less likely to receive the health care they need. These effects hold in models that take into account covariates and receipt of health care in the past, a useful control for unmeasured heterogeneity. In this analysis for 2007-2008, economic marginality mediates maternal incarceration on young adult unmet health care needs. Health insurance mediates a smaller portion of this effect. The findings of this research provide important bench marks for assessing the effects of the 2010 passage and the 2013 implementation of the Affordable Care Act [ACA], as well as prospective efforts to change or repeal the ACA.

Keywords: Access to health services; Economic marginality; Parental incarceration; Young adults.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics*
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / trends
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parents*
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Socioeconomic Factors