Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 39, Issue 9, pp 695–702

Childhood adversity in an Australian population


DOI: 10.1007/s00127-004-0802-0

Cite this article as:
Rosenman, S. & Rodgers, B. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2004) 39: 695. doi:10.1007/s00127-004-0802-0



The impact of adversity in childhood is well established in clinical populations, but there is little information about adversity in wider populations. The aim of this paper is to report and to explore the distribution of childhood family adversity in an Australian population.


A total of 7485 randomly selected subjects in 20–24, 40–44 and 60–64 year age bands were interviewed at the outset of a longitudinal community study of psychological health in the Canberra region of Australia. In the initial cross-sectional interview, subjects answered 17 questions about experience of adversity in the home to age 16 years.


In the population, 59.5% had experienced some form of childhood adversity and 37% had experienced more than one adversity. Domestic conflict and parental psychopathology and substance use are the common adversities. Parental sexual abuse was reported by 1.1%. Adversity was highest in the 40–44 year age group and reported more in women in all age groups. The majority of subjects saw their childhood as happy or normal despite adversity, but happiness is affected most by domestic warmth and harmony, and normalcy by abuse and neglect. Severe adversities, physical and sexual abuse and neglect, were uncommon, but were related to multiple and other severe adversities.


Some form of adversity is a common experience, although the severest abuses are less common in this population. Multiple adversities are common and only a minority experience single adversities. Physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect rarely occur alone, but indicate a context of abuse.

Key words

childhood adversity epidemiology family relations community surveys child abuse 

Copyright information

© Steinkopff Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Mental Health ResearchAustralian National UniversityCanberra ACT 0200Australia

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