Adults who had Stress in Childhood (5)

For the million American children identified by social agencies as being maltreated every year, and for the many more whose abuse is not brought to the attention of authorities, a new study* shows that the long shadow of their misfortune falls on their economic potential as adults.

A sample of 5000 American adults reported their childhood history of any maltreatment, physical abuse, sexual abuse and severe neglect.  Those who had this history were compared with those who had not with respect to their employment status, income level and Medicaid usage.  Statistical techniques were used to filter out the effect of each individual’s race, age, gender and childhood economic status.

The research showed that adults who experienced any form of maltreatment as children were twice as likely to be unemployed as those who experienced no maltreatment.  The group that experienced physical abuse was 2.4 times more likely to be unemployed than those with no maltreatment.  For those who experienced more than one form of maltreatment the ratio was 2.9.

In parallel with this, the proportion living in poverty was 60% higher in those physically abused, 2 times higher if severely neglected and 2.8 times higher if subjected to multiple forms of maltreatment.

Surprisingly, sexual abuse survivors did not have a higher rate of unemployment but they did have a higher rate of using Medicaid service.

These results indicate a large cost to society of maltreated children when they become adults.  The expense comes not only from unemployment insurance, Medicaid costs and poverty-related social support but also from loss of individual productivity and tax revenue.  In addition, the author points out that low socioeconomic status and a past history of being mistreated are both risk factors for an individual to abuse their own children, thus perpetuating a cycle.  It is possible that programs designed to alleviate poverty would have more long-term success if they included assessment and counseling for adults mistreated as children.

*Zielinski DS. Child maltreatment and adult socioeconomic well-being. Child Abuse Negl. 2009 Oct;33(10):661-5.

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