The Social Distribution and Long-Term Effects of Childhood Maltreatment: An Analysis of the Moderating Effects of Social Status and Parental Support

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2003-12-08

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This study explores the relationship between childhood physical maltreatment and two mental health outcomes, psychological distress and problem drinking, in a nationally representative sample. Data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS), which measured childhood experiences with parental physical maltreatment and adult mental health outcomes, were used to examine the conditional effects of childhood maltreatment on psychological distress and problem drinking. A "gender-difference hypothesis" predicts that childhood physical maltreatment is more strongly related to distress among women and is more strongly related to problem drinking among men. The results support this hypothesis only for psychological distress. A "saturation hypothesis" predicts that women are more likely to have higher rates of problem drinking but not distress, and men experience elevated rates of distress but not problem drinking. No significant findings emerged to support the second hypothesis. Results also suggest that, among respondents who experienced either any physical maltreatment or major psychical maltreatment, low parental support exacerbates the negative impact of physical maltreatment on distress. This research underscores the importance of structural and contextual factors for the long-term consequences of childhood physical maltreatment.

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