Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2019 Feb; 74(3): 526–535.

Published online 2016 Dec 6. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbw147

PMCID: PMC6377034

PMID: 27927743


© The Author(s) 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. Used by permission.


Objective: Although early-life insults may affect health, few studies use objective physical measures of adult health. This study investigated whether experiencing misfortune during childhood is associated with handgrip strength (HGS) in later life.

Method: Data on childhood misfortune and adult characteristics from the Health and Retirement Study were used to predict baseline and longitudinal change in HGS among White, Black, and Hispanic American men and women.

Results: Regression analyses revealed that multiple indicators of childhood misfortune were related to HGS at baseline, but the relationships were distinct for men and women. Over the study, having one childhood impairment predicted steeper declines in HGS for men, but childhood misfortune was unrelated to HGS change among women. Hispanic Americans had lower baseline HGS than their non-Hispanic counterparts and manifested steeper declines in HGS.

Discussion: The relationship between childhood exposures and adult HGS varied by the type of misfortune, but there was no evidence that the relationship varied by race/ethnicity. The significant and enduring Hispanic disadvantage in HGS warrants greater attention in gerontology.

Includes Supplemental Materials.