Effects of positive and negative childhood experiences on adult family health

BMC Public Health. 2021 Apr 5;21(1):651. doi: 10.1186/s12889-021-10732-w.


Background: The objective of the study was to determine the association between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and positive childhood experiences (PCEs) with family health in adulthood. Prior research indicates that ACEs and PCEs affect individual physical and mental health in adulthood. However, little is known about how ACEs and PCEs affect family health. Families develop and function through patterns and routines which are often intergenerational. Therefore, a person's early experiences may influence their family's health in adulthood.

Method: A survey was administered to 1030 adults through Qualtrics, with participants recruited using quota-sampling to reflect the demographic characteristics of U.S. adults. Participants completed a survey about their childhood experiences, four domains of family health (family social and emotional health processes, family healthy lifestyle, family health resources, and family external social supports), and demographic characteristics. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling.

Results: After controlling for marriage, education, gender, race and age, ACEs were negatively associated with family social and emotional health processes and family health resources when accounting for PCEs; PCEs were positively associated with all four family health domains irrespective of ACEs.

Conclusion: Childhood experiences affect family health in adulthood in the expected direction. Even in the presence of early adversity, positive experiences in childhood can provide a foundation for creating better family health in adulthood.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experiences; Family health; Life-course theory; Positive childhood experiences; Resilience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Family Health*
  • Humans
  • Latent Class Analysis
  • Mental Health
  • Surveys and Questionnaires