Date of Award

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Joshua P Mersky

Committee Members

Steven McMurtry, James Topitzes, Susan Rose, Bo Zhang


Adverse Childhood Experiences, Life Course Impacts, Psychosocial Functioning


Introduction: Research has shown that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as child maltreatment and household dysfunction are among the leading environmental causes of morbidity and mortality. Despite the proliferation of ACEs studies, many significant gaps in the literature remain. First, many ACEs studies have examined the physical health outcomes of older adults. To better understand the origins of disease and death, further research is needed that examines the effects of ACEs on mental health and behavioral health earlier in the life course. Second, although international interest in ACEs is on the rise, most ACE research has been conducted in the Western nations, few investigations have cross-validated the measurement of ACEs or examined the effects of ACEs in less developed countries. Third, this body of research has almost exclusively explored the connection between individuals’ retrospective accounts of adversity and their own functioning. Few studies have used prospective data to test the intergenerational consequences of ACEs. Methods: This dissertation comprises three studies that addressed the above gaps. The first study used data from the Fragile Families and Child well-being study to explore the longitudinal and bidirectional relations between ACEs and child internalizing/externalizing problems. The second study used original data collected from over 1,000 rural Chinese young adults, to assess the cross-cultural validity of an ACE measure and test the effects of ACEs on psychological well-being in emerging adulthood. The third study used data from the Families and Children Thriving Study in Wisconsin to explore whether a mother’s own exposure to ACEs would affect the socio-emotional development of her offspring. Results: Over 80% of participants had at least 1 ACE in the three studies. The first study revealed that there was bidirectional relationship between ACEs and child internalizing/externalizing problems, although the relationship was not always significant from early childhood through middle adolescence. The second study demonstrated that ACEs were significantly related with Chinese young adults’ psychological problems. The third study highlighted that there was significant relationship between maternal ACEs and children’s socio-emotional problems. The relationship was also mediated by maternal mental health problems and adult adversity. Conclusions: ACEs were prevalent among economically disadvantaged populations. ACEs also impacted individuals’ psychosocial outcomes from early childhood through next generation. Results from the dissertation research may guide evidence-based and culturally sensitive prevention and intervention efforts in both China and the United States.

Included in

Social Work Commons