Academic Study Finds That Women Abused as Children Have Higher Mortality Rates Over the Long Term

A recent study by researchers at Northwestern University and West Virginia University found that women who reported they had been victims of child abuse had higher rates of mortality over the long term. Lead author of the study is Edith Chen, professor of psychology and co-director of the Foundations of Health Research Center at Northwestern University. Dr. Chen is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The longitudinal study used data from questionnaires completed in 1995 and 1996 by more than 6,000 adults ages 25-74. As of October 2015, 1,091 of the participants, or 17.4 percent, were dead. Women who reported they were abused as children had a higher level of mortality than women who did not report child abuse. There was no difference in mortality rates for men who were abused compared to men who were not abused.

Nicholas Turiano, an assistant professor of psychology at West Virginia University and a co-author of the study, stated that “we do know that misfortune is associated with poor behaviors and poor coping strategies, and that’s part of the reason why these individuals become unhealthy and die earlier. The child abuse was linked to a variety of adult psychiatric problems, including depression, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

However, Dr. Turiano and colleagues want to determine why there was a gender difference in their findings. He wonders: “Is it something genetically different about men, that they have some innate ability to be resilient? Or is it something they’ve learned that has developed over time? Those are some unanswered questions we are really curious to explore further.”

The study, “Association of Reports of Childhood Abuse and All-Cause Mortality Rates in Women,” was published in JAMA Psychiatry. It may be accessed here.

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