Exposure to Family Member Incarceration and Adult Well-being in the United States.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


More than half of the adult population in the United States has ever had a family member incarcerated, an experience more common among Black individuals. The impacts of family incarceration on well-being are not fully understood.


To assess the associations of incarceration of a family member with perceived well-being and differences in projected life expectancy.

Design, setting, and participants

This nationally representative cross-sectional study used data from the 2018 Family History of Incarceration Survey to examine how experiences of family member incarceration were associated with a holistic measure of well-being, including physical, mental, social, financial, and spiritual domains. Well-being was used to estimate change in life expectancy and was compared across varying levels of exposure to immediate and extended family member incarceration using logistic regression models to adjust for individual and household characteristics. Data were analyzed from October 2019 to April 2020.


Respondents' history of family member incarceration, including immediate and extended family members.

Main outcomes and measures

The main outcome was self-reported life-evaluation, a measure of overall well-being from the 100 Million Healthier Lives Adult Well-being Assessment. Respondents were considered thriving with a current life satisfaction score of 7 or greater and a future life optimism score of 8 or greater, each on a scale of 0 to 10. Other outcomes included physical health, mental health, social support, financial well-being, and spiritual well-being, each measured with separate scales. Additionally, life expectancy projections were estimated using population-level correlations with the Life Evaluation Index. All percentages were weighted to more closely represent the US population.


Of 2815 individuals included in analysis, 1472 (51.7%) were women, 1765 (62.8%) were non-Hispanic White, and 868 (31.5%) were aged 35 to 54 years. A total of 1806 respondents (45.0%) reported having an immediate family member who was incarcerated. Compared with respondents with no family incarceration, any family member incarceration was associated with lower well-being overall (thriving: 69.5% [95% CI, 65.0%-75.0%] vs 56.9% [95% CI, 53.9%-59.9%]) and in every individual domain (eg, physical thriving: 51.1% [95% CI, 46.2-56.0] vs 35.5% [95% CI, 32.6%-38.3%]) and with a mean (SE) estimated 2.6 (0.03) years shorter life expectancy. Among those with any family incarceration, Black respondents had a mean (SE) estimated 0.46 (0.04) fewer years of life expectancy compared with White respondents.

Conclusions and relevance

These findings suggest that family member health and well-being may be an important avenue through which incarceration is associated with racial disparities in health and mortality. Decarceration efforts may improve population-level well-being and life expectancy by minimizing detrimental outcomes associated with incarceration among nonincarcerated family members.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Sundaresh, R; Yi, Y; Harvey, TD; Roy, B; Riley, C; Lee, H; Wildeman, C; Wang, EA

Published Date

  • May 1, 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 4 / 5

Start / End Page

  • e2111821 -

PubMed ID

  • 34047791

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8164096

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2574-3805

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2574-3805

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.11821


  • eng