, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 413–435 | Cite as

Cumulative Childhood Adversity, Educational Attainment, and Active Life Expectancy Among U.S. Adults

  • Jennifer Karas MontezEmail author
  • Mark D. Hayward


Studies of the early-life origins of adult physical functioning and mortality have found that childhood health and socioeconomic context are important predictors, often irrespective of adult experiences. However, these studies have generally assessed functioning and mortality as distinct processes and used cross-sectional prevalence estimates that neglect the interplay of disability incidence, recovery, and mortality. Here, we examine whether early-life disadvantages both shorten lives and increase the number and fraction of years lived with functional impairment. We also examine the degree to which educational attainment mediates and moderates the health consequences of early-life disadvantages. Using the 1998–2008 Health and Retirement Study, we examine these questions for non-Hispanic whites and blacks aged 50–100 years using multistate life tables. Within levels of educational attainment, adults from disadvantaged childhoods lived fewer total and active years, and spent a greater portion of life impaired compared with adults from advantaged childhoods. Higher levels of education did not ameliorate the health consequences of disadvantaged childhoods. However, because education had a larger impact on health than did childhood socioeconomic context, adults from disadvantaged childhoods who achieved high education levels often had total and active life expectancies that were similar to or better than those of adults from advantaged childhoods who achieved low education levels.


Active life expectancy Mortality Childhood conditions Education Life tables 



Jennifer Karas Montez thanks the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program for its financial support. This study was also supported by Grant 1 R01-HD053696 (PI Robert A Hummer) and Grant 5 R24 HD042849 awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors thank the Editor and two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful critiques and suggestions. A previous version of this article was presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the Population Association of America, and the 2012 Aging with Disability Conference supported by Grants P30 AG034464 awarded to Syracuse University and P30 AG012846 awarded to the University of Michigan from the National Institute on Aging.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Population Research CenterUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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