The Clustering of Adverse Childhood Experiences in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children: Are Gender and Poverty Important?

J Interpers Violence. 2022 Mar;37(5-6):2218-2241. doi: 10.1177/0886260520935096. Epub 2020 Jul 8.


Previous research has demonstrated a graded relationship between the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences reported (an ACE score) and child outcomes. However, ACE scores lack specificity and ignore the patterning of adversities, which are informative for interventions. The aim of the present study was to explore the clustering of ACEs and whether this clustering differs by gender or is predicted by poverty. Data on 8,572 participants of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) were used. ALSPAC is a regionally representative prenatal cohort of children born between 1991 and 1992 in the Avon region of South-West England. ACEs included parental divorce, death of a close family member, interparental violence, parental mental health problems, parental alcohol misuse, parental drug use, parental convictions, and sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, between birth and 19 years. Latent class analysis was used to derive ACE clusters and associations between poverty, gender, and the derived classes tested using multinomial logistic regression. Five latent classes were identified: "Low ACEs" (55%), "Parental separation and mother's mental health problems" (18%), "Parental mental health problems, convictions and separation" (15%), "Abuse and mental health problems" (6%), and "Poly adversity" (6%). Death of a close family member and sexual abuse did not cluster with other adversities. The clustering did not differ by gender. Poverty was strongly related to both individual ACEs and clusters. These findings demonstrate that ACEs cluster in specific patterns and that poverty is strongly related to this. Therefore, reducing child poverty might be one strategy for reducing ACEs.

Keywords: child abuse; domestic violence; mental health and violence; sexual assault.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Child
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Divorce
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Parents
  • Poverty