Childhood Disadvantage and Adult Functional Status: Do Early-Life Exposures Jeopardize Healthy Aging?

J Aging Health. 2022 Oct;34(6-8):794-806. doi: 10.1177/08982643211064723. Epub 2022 Jan 5.


Objectives: To examine whether childhood disadvantage is associated with later-life functional status and identify mediating factors.

Methods: Unique and additive effects of five childhood domains on functional status were assessed at baseline (2006) and over time (2006-2016) in a sample of 13,894 adults from the Health and Retirement Study (>50 years). Adult health behaviors and socioeconomic status (SES) were tested as mediators.

Results: Respondents exposed to multiple childhood disadvantages (OR = .694) as well as low childhood SES (OR = .615), chronic diseases (OR = .694), impairments (OR = .599), and risky adolescent behaviors (OR = .608) were less likely to be free of functional disability by baseline. Over time, these unique and additive effects of childhood disadvantage increased the hazard odds of eventually developing functional disability (e.g., additive effect: hOR = 1.261). Adult health behaviors and SES mediated some of these effects.

Discussion: Given the enduring effects of childhood disadvantage, policies to promote healthy aging should reduce exposure to childhood disadvantage.

Keywords: activities of daily living; childhood adversity; cumulative disadvantage; life course epidemiology; successful aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Functional Status
  • Health Behavior
  • Healthy Aging*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Retirement
  • Social Class
  • Socioeconomic Factors