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Trauma and the Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantage


Childhood trauma constitutes a major public health crisis in the United States, with an estimated two thirds of children experiencing at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. Despite the prevalence of childhood trauma, there has been very little sociological research on this subject. Using rich data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the current dissertation project offers important new insights on the contours and consequences of childhood trauma. The first analytic chapter shows how neighborhood racial segregation is an important determinant for exposure to multiple types of violence. The findings suggest that adolescents living in more racially segregated communities are more likely to report exposure to violence. The second analytic chapter examines whether exposure to multiple traumas or “complex trauma” mediates the association between family structure and various “markers” of life chances in adulthood. The analysis shows that children born to single mother families, relative to children who are born to two biological or adoptive parent families, are more likely to experience complex trauma in childhood, which accounts for a significant portion of the association between family structure, adult incarceration, and college completion. Finally, the third analytic chapter examines the relationship between witnessing community violence and criminal legal system involvement in young adulthood. This analysis shows that adolescents who witness community violence are significantly more likely to become incarcerated in young adulthood. The analysis also finds significant racial disparities in witnessing violence, suggesting that exposure to community violence is a potentially important mechanism in the production of racial inequalities in criminal legal system involvement.

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