The long arm of childhood experiences on longevity: Testing midlife vulnerability and resilience pathways

Lewina O. Lee*, Carolyn M. Aldwin, Laura D. Kubzansky, Daniel K. Mroczek, Avron Spiro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Adverse early experiences have been associated with higher mortality risk, but evidence varies by type of experiences, and relatively little is known about the role of favorable early experiences on health in later life. This study evaluated the independent contributions to longevity of favorable and unfavorable early experiences, including psychosocial stressors, childhood socioeconomic status (SES), and close relationships. We also examined 4 midlife psychosocial factors as vulnerability and resilience pathways potentially mediating these associations. The sample included 1,042 men from the VA Normative Aging Study. Early experiences were assessed retrospectively in 1961-1970 and 1995. Midlife psychosocial factors were measured in 1985-1991 and included stressful life events (SLEs), negative affect, life satisfaction, and optimism. Mortality was assessed through 2016. In multiple mediator structural equation models, which account for the overlap among pathways, higher number of SLEs in midlife mediated the association of having more childhood psychosocial stressors to reduced longevity, supporting stress continuity as a vulnerability pathway. Higher optimism in midlife also mediated the association of higher childhood SES to greater longevity. In single mediator models, higher life satisfaction in midlife transmitted the benefits of higher childhood SES and presence of close relationships onto longevity. Higher optimism also mediated the association of fewer childhood psychosocial stressors to longevity. However, these indirect effects were attenuated when accounting for shared variance among mediators, suggesting overlapping pathways. Findings offer novel evidence on unique and shared pathways linking specific dimensions of early experiences to longevity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)884-899
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Early adversity
  • Mediation
  • Mortality
  • Optimism
  • Stressful life events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Social Psychology
  • Aging


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