Childhood sexual abuse and adult human capital


Henkhaus, Laura E. (2018). Childhood sexual abuse and adult human capital. 2018 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


A growing body of literature suggests that the consequences of childhood sexual abuse may be long-lasting and extend beyond mental health. Scientists have described neurobiological mechanisms explaining effects of chronic childhood stress on physiological and cognitive development. Extant literature shows that adults who had suffered childhood abuse had poorer physical and mental health, higher rates of adverse health behaviors, and higher rates of violence perpetration compared to adults who suffered no abuse. Yet, the literature has largely neglected to measure the potential consequences of childhood abuse on cognitive development and later-life economic wellbeing while accounting for the fact that survivors of childhood abuse more often come from lower income households. In this paper, I use the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to study human capital outcomes of survivors of childhood sexual abuse in young adulthood. I study outcomes in Wave IV: highest educational attainment as no high school degree, GED, high school diploma, or college degree; having full-time employment; and earnings. I use data from Wave I child and parent interviews to control for demographics, other adverse childhood experiences, childhood socioeconomic status, and observed and unobserved characteristics of their school environment through use of school fixed effects in regression analyses. Specifically, demographics include age, sex, and race; other adverse childhood experiences include physical abuse, emotional abuse, and parental incarceration; and childhood socioeconomic status is included as highest parental educational attainment and household income. I identify the population who reported childhood sexual abuse as those with any report of childhood sexual abuse in the Wave III or Wave IV computer-assisted self-interview sections. I address missing data with multiple imputation for variables with more than 3% of observations missing. I expect that survivors of childhood sexual abuse will have lower educational attainment and poorer labor market outcomes. Preliminary results from fully adjusted regression analyses show that childhood sexual abuse was associated with lower educational attainment, lower likelihood of full-time employment, and reduced earnings. This study highlights the importance of detection of childhood sexual abuse and quality treatment of trauma symptoms to avoid durable consequences on economic wellbeing.

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2018 Add Health Users Conference


Henkhaus, Laura E.

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID