Childhood Adversity and Men’s Relationships in Adulthood: Life Course Processes and Racial Disadvantage

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Prior U.S. population studies have found that childhood adversity influences the quality of relationships in adulthood, with emerging research suggesting that this association might be especially strong for black men. We theorize psychosocial and behavioral coping responses to early life adversity and how these responses may link early life adversity to strain in men’s relationships with their indeterminate partners and children across the life course, with attention to possible racial variation in these experiences and implications for later life well-being.


We analyze in-depth interviews with 15 black men and 15 white men. We use qualitative analysis techniques to connect childhood experiences to psychosocial processes in childhood and behavioral coping strategies associated with relationship experiences throughout adulthood.


Black men describe much stronger and more persistent childhood adversity than do white men. Findings further suggest that childhood adversity contributes to psychosocial processes (e.g., diminished sense of mastery) that may lead to ways of coping with adversity (e.g., self-medication) that are likely to contribute to relationship difficulties throughout the life span.


A life course perspective directs attention to the early life origins of cumulative patterns of social disadvantage, patterns that extend to later life. Our findings suggest psychosocial and behavioral pathways through which early life adversity may constrain and strain men’s relationships, possibly contributing to racial inequality in family relationships across the life span.

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