Is there a Relationship between Childhood Poverty, Military Service & Later Life Depression among Men?

Research Paper Title

The relationship between childhood poverty, military service, and later life depression among men: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study.


Childhood poverty has been associated with depression in adulthood, but whether this relationship extends to later life major depression (MD) or is modified by military service is unclear.


Data come from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) 2010 wave, a longitudinal, nationally representative study of older adults. Men with data on military service and childhood poverty were included (N=6330). Childhood poverty was assessed by four indicators (i.e., parental unemployment, residential instability) experienced before age 16. Military service was categorized as veteran versus civilian, and during draft versus all-volunteer (after 1973) eras. Past year MD was defined by the Composite International Diagnostic Inventory.


Four in ten men ever served, with 13.7% in the all-volunteer military. Approximately 12% of civilians, 8% draft era and 24% all-volunteer era veterans had MD. Childhood poverty was associated with higher odds of MD (Odds Ratio (OR): 2.38, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.32-4.32) and higher odds of military service (OR: 2.58, 95% CI: 1.58-4.21). Military service was marginally associated with MD (OR: 1.28, 95% CI: 0.98-1.68) and did not moderate the association between childhood poverty and MD.


Self-report data is subject to recall bias. The HRS did not assess childhood physical and emotional abuse, or military combat exposure.


Men raised in poverty had greater odds of draft and all-volunteer military service. Early-life experiences, independent of military service, appear associated with greater odds of MD. Assessing childhood poverty in service members may identify risk for depression in later life.


Bareis, N. & Mezuk, B. (2016) The Relationship between Childhood Poverty, Military Service, and Later Life Depression among Men: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study. Journal of Affective Disorders. 206, pp.1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.07.018. Epub 2016 Jul 15.


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