Childhood parental divorce and cortisol in young adulthood: Evidence for mediation by family income

Amy J. Kraft, Linda Luecken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Childhood parental divorce has been linked with negative physical and psychological health in adulthood, potentially due to alterations in adrenocortical activity resulting from chronic stress. The current study evaluated cortisol in 94 young adults (mean age 19.9) from families characterized by parental divorce (n = 43) or intact parental marriages (n = 51). Salivary cortisol was assessed prior to and at 3 time points after a challenging speech task. Participants from divorced families had significantly lower cortisol across the experimental period than those from intact families, even after controlling for family conflict and current depression and anxiety. Lower family income was also associated with lower cortisol, and partially mediated the relationship between parental divorce and cortisol. Findings suggest that childhood parental divorce is associated with attenuated cortisol in young adulthood, which may be explained by lower income in divorced families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1363-1369
Number of pages7
Issue number9
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • Childhood
  • Cortisol
  • Divorce
  • Family
  • HPA
  • Income

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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