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The Effect of Incarceration on Midlife Health: A Life-Course Approach

Abstract

A significant association between incarceration and health is well established, but whether this association depends on the timing of incarceration is not known. Men who experience incarceration during the transition to adulthood are more likely to have their educational attainment and transition into the work force disrupted relative to others who are never incarcerated and to those who are first incarcerated in adulthood. Thus, I investigate whether age at first incarceration conditions the relationship between incarceration and men’s health, including general and mental health in midlife. I also examine whether the disadvantaged socioeconomic status and health behavior of ex-inmates function as a main mechanism explaining the relationship between incarceration and health. Using propensity score–weighted regressions with data from the NLSY79. I find that men with a first incarceration during the transition to adulthood (at ages 18–24) are less likely to be in good self-reported general and mental health than otherwise similar men who have never been incarcerated. Results suggest that these negative health conditions among ex-inmates are explained mostly by socioeconomic status such as educational attainment and employment. On the other hand, men with an incarceration experience later in adulthood (at ages 25–40) are not less likely to be in good general and mental health compared to otherwise similar men who have never been incarcerated. Overall, the results from this study encourage a life course approach to understanding the relationship between incarceration and health.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Arnett (2000) proposed emerging adulthood as the new concept of the period between 18 and 25 years of age where adolescents become more independent and explore various life possibilities (Arnett 2000).

  2. 2.

    I also compared health outcomes of individuals with emerging adulthood incarceration (n = 178) to those who experienced adulthood incarceration (n = 240) and addressed them in the results section (Table 2).

  3. 3.

    There are only few women who have been incarcerated in the NLSY79. Only 1 % of women who answered the health 40 survey were ever incarcerated.

  4. 4.

    I examined several sensitivity analyses to see any potential influence of my sampling restriction on results. First, I reestimated my models including the 18 men who were incarcerated before 1980 in my treatment groups rather than excluding them. Second, I examined models including the 13 men who experienced their first incarceration at the time of the health 40 survey in my treatment group (adulthood incarceration). Lastly, I estimated my models including the 17 men who were incarcerated after the health 40 survey in my control groups. My core statistical inferences were robust whether I included or excluded these individuals (18, 13, or 17 individuals) from the sample.

  5. 5.

    I also examined the same models by limiting them to individuals who did not have any missing for both of the health outcomes, and the substance of the findings remained the same regardless of whether I included or excluded the individuals with missing responses.

  6. 6.

    I also ran the same models for health outcomes that showed no differences after taking into account the selection bias from Table 2, and incarceration stays statistically non-significant after including potential mediators.

  7. 7.

    To indirectly examine potential influences of this limitation in my findings, I examined whether the results were robust after omitting men who were never incarcerated but had criminal contact (i.e. conviction, probation, etc.) from the never-incarcerated group, because these men might experience short spells of incarceration between survey years. However, the results did not substantively change.

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Correspondence to Yujin Kim.

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Kim, Y. The Effect of Incarceration on Midlife Health: A Life-Course Approach. Popul Res Policy Rev 34, 827–849 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-015-9365-x

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Keywords

  • Incarceration
  • Health
  • Life course approach