Our objective is to examine whether lifetime adversity has either a ‘steeling effect’ or ‘cumulative disadvantage effect’ on the consequences of monthly adversity on psychological well-being in middle-aged adults. An exploratory step was to examine whether such associations differed based on the domain of adversity (personal, family/friend, bereavement, social-environmental, and relationship).
Multilevel modeling was applied to data from a sample of participants in midlife (n = 358, ages 50-65, 54% women) who were assessed monthly for two years.
Lifetime adversity did not show steeling effects, but instead appeared to exacerbate the impact of monthly adversity on psychological well-being, indicating cumulative disadvantage. On months where an adversity was experienced, on average, individuals who reported more lifetime adversity showed stronger increases in depressive symptoms, anxiety, and negative affect and decreases in positive affect. There was limited evidence to suggest for steeling effects for life satisfaction. Reporting adversity in the personal, bereavement, social-environmental, and relationship domains showed the strongest associations with psychological well-being.
Our discussion focuses on how lifetime adversity showed a cumulative disadvantage effect on the consequences of monthly adversity on psychological well-being. We also elaborate on future directions for research that include other conceptualizations of adversity and research to examine mechanisms underlying this relationship.