Methods: Data are from the Lehigh Longitudinal Study, in which participants were assessed from early childhood into the mid-30s. The original study sample (n = 457) was 54% male and 80.7% (n = 369) White, 11.2% (n = 51) more than one race, 5.3% (n = 24) Black or African American, 1.3% (n = 6) American Indian/Alaska Native, 1.3% (n = 6) unknown, and 0.2% (n = 1) Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. At the initial assessment, 86% of the families were from two-parent households. About 60% of the sample would be considered poor according to the income-to-needs ratio and poverty threshold set by the United States Census Bureau in 1976. At the final (adult) wave of data collection, 80% (n= 357) of the original sample remained in the study. Multiple group path analysis tested the relationships between childhood household adversity, transitions, and adult socioeconomic outcomes for maltreated and non-maltreated children. Positive parent-child relationships was included as a moderator, and gender as a covariate.
Results:Household adversity was negatively associated with highest education level (β = -.53, p<.001) and positively associated with income problems (β = .30, p<.01) in adulthood for non-maltreated children only. For both groups (maltreated and non-maltreated), caregiver transitions was negatively associated with highest education level (maltreated: β = -.29, p<.01; non-maltreated: β = -.13, p<.01) and positively associated with unemployment problems (maltreated: β = .31, p<.01; non-maltreated: β = .21, p<.01). Positive parent-child relationships did not directly predict or moderate the effects of early adversity on the adult outcomes.
Conclusions and Implications: For children who did not experience maltreatment, reducing exposure to household adversity is an important goal for prevention. Reducing exposure to child maltreatment for all children remains an important public health priority. Results underscore the need for programs and policies that promote stable relationships and environments.