Childhood Physical Abuse as a Fundamental Social Cause of Mid-Life Physical Health: Testing a Multi-Pathway Life Course Model

Springer, Kristen
Working paper no. 2004-26


This study combines an ecological approach with a life course perspective to examine the multifaceted mediating pathways linking childhood physical abuse with mid-life physical health. Childhood physical abuse has a strong and persistent effect on mid-life physical health net of family background and age, with women more adversely affected than men. Smoking, obesity, mental illness, and self-rated health are consistent mediators whereas social relations and cognition are inconsequential. The importance of particular paths varies by specific disease outcome indicating that childhood physical abuse acts through a variety of proximate causes, including unhealthy coping strategies and decreased immunity to infections. These findings suggest that childhood physical abuse should be viewed as a fundamental social cause of ill health among adults.