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Soc Sci Med. 2012 Jun;74(12):1979-86. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.02.028. Epub 2012 Mar 17.

Childhood family income and life outcomes in adulthood: findings from a 30-year longitudinal study in New Zealand.

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Christchurch Health and Development Study, University of Otago, Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, PO Box 4345, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand.


The aims of this study were to use data gathered over the course of a 30-year longitudinal study to examine the linkages between economic circumstances in childhood and subsequent developmental outcomes spanning educational achievement; economic circumstances; crime; mental health; and teenage pregnancy. All of these outcomes have been linked with childhood economic conditions and it is frequently argued that reducing income inequalities will mitigate psychosocial risks of children reared in families facing economic hardship. Alternatively it may be suggested that the associations between childhood family economic circumstances and later outcomes are mediated by individual, family and social factors that are correlated with low family income and contribute to later outcomes. To examine these issues, data were drawn from a birth cohort of New Zealand children born in 1977 and followed to age 30. Declining childhood family income was associated with a range of negative outcomes in adulthood, including: lower educational achievement; poorer economic circumstances; higher rates of criminal offending; higher rates of mental health problems; and higher rates of teenage pregnancy. After covariate adjustment, childhood family income remained significantly associated with educational achievement and economic circumstances, but was no longer significantly associated with the mental health, offending and teenage pregnancy outcomes. These findings suggest that, after due allowance has been made for social, family and individual contextual factors, low family income during childhood is associated with a range of educational and economic disadvantages in adulthood but is not directly related to increased risks of crime, mental health problems or teen pregnancy.

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