Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 19–48 | Cite as

The Long Arm of Adolescent Health Among Men and Women: Does Attained Status Explain Its Association with Mid-Adulthood Health?

  • Anna Zajacova
  • Katrina M. Walsemann
  • Jennifer Beam Dowd


A growing body of research has established the effect of early health on later-life health. This study extends the literature by (1) examining multiple dimensions of mid-adulthood health including physical and mental conditions, (2) analyzing attained status (education and income) as a potential pathway through which health problems in adolescence may impact later health, and (3) considering the role of gender in these life course processes. Using over 20 years of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 cohort (NLSY79), we test the associations between adolescent health limitations and eight adult health measures for men and women, and whether these associations are mediated by status attainment. We find strong links between adolescent health limitations and mid-adulthood health, especially among women. Among men, the associations are strong for measures of physical health but somewhat weaker for mental and general health measures—taking into account the men’s demographic characteristics, family background, and skills, the effects of adolescent limitations become non-significant for these dimensions. These patterns are largely independent of attained socioeconomic status; that is, education and income do not appear to be critical pathways from adolescent to adult health. Understanding how early health influences the long-term trajectory of health and social capital accumulation for men and women is critical for developing social and health research and policy, in order to optimize health over the entire life course.


Adolescent health Health limitations Adult health Status attainment Gender Life course 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Zajacova
    • 1
  • Katrina M. Walsemann
    • 2
  • Jennifer Beam Dowd
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, Arnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.CUNY School of Public Health, Hunter CollegeCity University of New York and CUNY Institute for Demographic Research (CIDR) The Graduate Center, CUNYNew YorkUSA

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