Friday, February 17, 2012

Bad news

The 2009 Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System (just a survey, despite the ominous name) has a number of questions on whether people had suffered "adverse childhood experiences."  They were only asked in two states, but since the BRFSS is a very large survey, that still gives a sample of about 10,000.  I'm teaching a class in Social Problems and the topic of child abuse came up, so I decided to look and see what the data said.  My expectation was that things would have improved, but to my surprise I found that younger people were more likely to report having experienced all of the "adverse experiences" (the figures are shown at the end of this post). 

Of course, people were recalling things from years ago, and it's possible that as people get older, they tend to forget bad things about their childhood.  It's also possible that standards have changed--for example, younger generations could certainly have a broader definition of what counts as being "insulted or put down." But there doesn't seem to be much room for forgetting or differences of interpretation in:  "how often did anyone at least 5 years older than you or an adult, force you to have sex?" Another possible explanation for the differences between generations, offered in an article in the "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report," is differential mortality:  if adverse childhood experience increases the risk of death, then people from older generations who suffered them will not be in the sample.  However, from other evidence in the BRFSS, I don't think that the effect on mortality is that large.  So that leaves the unpleasant possibility that these kinds of mistreatment actually became more common over much of the 20th century. 

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