Where we used to live: Validating retrospective measures of childhood neighborhood context for life course epidemiologic studies

Theresa L. Osypuk, Rebecca Kehm, Dawn P. Misra

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12 Scopus citations


Early life exposures influence numerous social determinants of health, as distal causes or confounders of later health outcomes. Although a growing literature is documenting how early life socioeconomic position affects later life health, few epidemiologic studies have tested measures for operationalizing early life neighborhood context, or examined their effects on later life health. In the Life-course Influences on Fetal Environments (LIFE) Study, a retrospective cohort study among Black women in Southfield, Michigan (71% response rate), we tested the validity and reliability of retrospectively-reported survey-based subjective measures of early life neighborhood context(N=693). We compared 3 subjective childhood neighborhood measures (disorder, informal social control, victimization), with 3 objective childhood neighborhood measures derived from 4 decades of historical census tract data 1970-2000, linked through geocoded residential histories (tract % poverty, tract % black, tract deprivation score derived from principal components analysis), as well as with 2 subjective neighborhood measures in adulthood. Our results documented that internal consistency reliability was high for the subjective childhood neighborhood scales (Cronbach's α =0.89, 0.93). Comparison of subjective with objective childhood neighborhood measures found moderate associations in hypothesized directions. Associations with objective variables were strongest for neighborhood disorder (rhos = .40), as opposed to with social control or victimization. Associations between subjective neighborhood context in childhood versus adulthood were moderate and stronger for residentially-stable populations. We lastly formally tested for, but found little evidence of, recall bias of the retrospective subjective reports of childhood context. These results provide evidence that retrospective reports of subjective neighborhood context may be a cost-effective, valid, and reliable method to operationalize early life context for health studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0124635
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 21 2015

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Copyright: © 2015 Osypuk et al.


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