Adolescent peer struggles predict accelerated epigenetic aging in midlife. Development and Psychopathology, 1-14.
This study examined struggles to establish autonomy and relatedness with peers in adolescence and early adulthood as predictors of advanced epigenetic aging assessed at age 30. Participants (N = 154; 67 male and 87 female) were observed repeatedly, along with close friends and romantic partners, from ages 13 through 29. Observed difficulty establishing close friendships characterized by mutual autonomy and relatedness from ages 13 to 18, an interview-assessed attachment state of mind lacking autonomy and valuing of attachment at 24, and self-reported difficulties in social integration across adolescence and adulthood were all linked to greater epigenetic age at 30, after accounting for chronological age, gender, race, and income. Analyses assessing the unique and combined effects of these factors, along with lifetime history of cigarette smoking, indicated that each of these factors, except for adult social integration, contributed uniquely to explaining epigenetic age acceleration. Results are interpreted as evidence that the adolescent preoccupation with peer relationships may be highly functional given the relevance of such relationships to long-term physical outcomes.