Gender Differences in the Early Life Origins of Midlife Functional Health

Jennifer Karas Montez, University of Texas at Austin

Research on women’s higher prevalence of functional limitations compared with men has focused on the role of adult circumstances, but has fallen short of fully accounting for the disparity. Because mounting evidence finds that early life conditions exert an enduring influence on adult health, I hypothesize that the disparity in functioning may originate in childhood. The National Survey of Midlife Development in the U.S. on adults 45-74 years (N=1,527) is used to identify the early life origins of functional limitations, and to evaluate intervening social and biological processes. Results indicate that functional limitations, and their gender gap, are anchored in early life. In particular, early life poverty predicted poorer functioning among men and women by depressing educational attainment and elevating negative affect; and through metabolic and cardiovascular conditions among women, net of adult confounders. The findings underscore the importance of a life course approach in explicating gender disparities in health.

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Presented in Poster Session 5