Age stereotypes and expectations about one’s own aging commence in childhood but most research focuses on predictive associations with midlife health behaviors, later-life chronic conditions, biomarkers, and longevity. Surprisingly little is known about the role of poor childhood health in these associations. This study aims to fill this gap.
Using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS: N = 5773, aged 50-98), we investigated whether diagnosed chronic illness before age 16 and self-rated childhood health predict late-life self-perceptions of aging (SPA) and proportional subjective age discrepancy (PSAD). We conducted Multivariate Multiple Regression Analysis (MMRA) to determine the joint and partial effects of the two indicators of childhood health. Models included controls for childhood family financial status as well as late-life self-rated health, chronic illnesses, memory status, and demographic covariates (age, gender, race/ethnicity, marital status, socioeconomic status) in 2016.
Over and above all covariates and the covariation of the two views of one’s own aging, the MMRA models revealed that the number of childhood chronic illnesses predicted SPA but not for PSAD. Self-rated childhood health predicted both SPA and PSAD in the unadjusted models, but not in the adjusted models.
This study provides new insight into potential early life precursors of self-evaluations of aging. In particular, childhood diagnoses of chronic illness enhance negative SPA up to 50 years later. Non-normative experiences related to poor health in childhood are lifelong foundations for socioeconomic status, health, and for self-related beliefs about age and aging.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America.