Childhood Adversity Impacts the Adult Health of Black Men

university-of-texas-logoA new study led by a sociologist at the University of Texas finds that African American men who endured childhood adversity are more likely to have physical and mental health problems as adults.

The study interviewed Black and White men and woman four times over a 15-year period. Participants were asked questions about their childhood, adult health and stress, and their adult relationships. The results showed that African American men were exposed to 28 percent more adversity as children than White men. The surveys found that the impact of these negative life events was three times as strong on Black men than on White men.

“Exposure to childhood adversity may cause stress and lead to a sequence of stressors over time that take a cumulative toll on relationships,” says Debra Umberson, professor of sociology at the University of Texas. “In addition, childhood adversity may trigger an enduring pattern of psychological and physiological vulnerability to stress that undermines relationships in adulthood.”

The results did not show a similar impact on Black women. “I was surprised that childhood adversity had such a minor impact on Black women’s health in adulthood, especially since the effect was so strong for Black men,” Professor Umberson says. “I think this is best explained by women’s tendency to seek out social contact in response to stress. This is true for Black and White women. Supportive relationships protect health.”

The study, “Race, Gender, and Chains of Disadvantage: Childhood Adversity, Social Relationships, and Health,” was published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. It may be accessed here.

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