Date of Award

Spring 2015

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Heather A Turner

Second Advisor

David Finkelhor

Third Advisor

Karen Van Gundy


Stress and health has been a topic of interest among researchers in a variety of fields such as medical sociology, psychology, public health, child abuse, and epidemiology. For decades this research had largely been conducted in silos within each of the respective fields. In recent years, these silos have started to diminish. Sociologists have begun to consider the accumulation of stressors over the life course, including how serious childhood stressors (such as child abuse) impact morbidity and mortality later in life. Using Wave I, Wave III and Wave IV data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), this dissertation adds to this growing body of research by examining the relationships between childhood stressors, later stress exposure, and health outcomes in young adulthood; and tests the mediating pathways of psychological and behavioral coping mechanisms in addition to the moderating effects of gender.

Findings indicated that higher levels of childhood stress were associated with higher levels of adult stress; however, the relationship between childhood stress and adult physical health was not mediated by stressors in adulthood. Additionally, the relationship between childhood stress and adult physical health (specifically, self-rated health and being over-weight or obese) were, for the most part, not mediated by either depressive symptoms or poor health behaviors. In other word, only direct effects of childhood stress on adult physical health were evident. Lastly, the impact of childhood and adult stressors on depressive symptoms, substance use, self-rated health and weight status differed by gender. Specifically, the effects of childhood and adult stress on depressive symptoms, poor diet/exercise, self-rated health and adult weight status were greater for women and the effects of childhood and adult stress on substance use were greater for men.

This dissertation adds to the research examining both the proliferation and enduring nature of childhood stress exposure as well as the literature exploring the pathways between childhood stress and adult health. The broader policy and health implications include a continued emphasis on the need to ameliorate abuse and neglect during childhood, interventions in childhood, screening in young adulthood, early treatment intervention in adulthood, and greater collaboration among researchers.