Auburn study shows childhood financial conditions are becoming a stronger predictor of adult health

Charlotte Tuggle | Communications Editor

The latest research by Thomas Fuller-Rowell, an associate professor in Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences and director of Auburn’s health disparities research initiative, shows that the socioeconomic conditions that a child grows up in are becoming more consequential for adult health.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology , was based on nationally-representative data collected in the 1990’s and the 2010’s. The researchers assessed childhood socioeconomic conditions using measures of parent occupational prestige, childhood poverty exposure and parent education; and examined how strongly they predict five established indicators of adult health: body mass index, waist circumference, number of chronic conditions, functional limitations and self-rated health.

Results of the study showed that associations between childhood socioeconomic measures and adult health were, on average, approximately twice as large in the more recently collected national sample from the 2010’s than in the earlier national sample collected in the 1990’s.

“Socioeconomic conditions in childhood have long been known to influence health and longevity,” Fuller-Rowell said. “However, this is the first study to show that childhood circumstances have become more consequential for adult health in the United States.”

Other research conducted in recent years suggests that death and despair are on the rise and mortality rates have risen among some less advantaged segments of the population. The results of this study may help to provide insight into this evolving body of work.

“Economic inequality has widened, communities have become more divided by socioeconomic status, and there are less good jobs available for those without a college degree,” Fuller-Rowell said. “The findings of our study are extremely concerning because they suggest that these broader shifts in social inequality are becoming reflected in health disparities determined by the family we are born into.”

For more information on the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Auburn University, visit here.