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Study: Childhood abuse linked to financial hardship in adulthood

February 7, 2023

A new study has found a link between abuse during childhood and financial hardship as an adult.

Researchers are calling for early interventions to prevent and address abuse and its long-term consequences.

The team analyzed data on 1,690 children born in 1980 and 1981 who attended kindergarten in Quebec public schools and were followed into adulthood. They reported their findings in “Childhood Abuse, Intimate Partner Violence in Young Adulthood, and Welfare Receipt by Midlife,” (Domond P, et al. Pediatrics. Feb. 7, 2023).

About 22.4% reported childhood abuse only, 14.5% reported intimate partner violence in young adulthood only and 18.5% reported both. Participants who experienced abuse were more likely to be female and to come from socioeconomically disadvantaged families.

Adults who experienced childhood physical abuse or a combination of physical and sexual abuse had a two-fold higher risk in using welfare in adulthood compared to those never abused, according to the study. Adults who experienced childhood abuse plus intimate partner violence as a young adult had a three-fold higher risk of welfare use compared to those never abused.

Among the latter group, almost 40% collected welfare for at least a year in adulthood. About 16% did so for at least five years compared to 3% of those never abused.

The links between abuse and welfare were calculated independent of risk factors like mental health and socioeconomic family characteristics but do not prove causation. Authors pointed to research linking child abuse with poor academic achievement and difficulty with emotions as a possible explanation for the financial hardship in adulthood. Consequences compound when abuse also occurs in young adulthood.

“Repeated abuse may set patterns of poor physical health and impaired social functioning that aggravate learning losses and behavioral problems, weaken job prospects, creating welfare assistance needs,” authors wrote.

They stressed the importance of early intervention to prevent and address abuse.

“Early support and intervention services for victims of abuse could reduce economic burden at governmental and individual levels, with societal or economic benefits for current and future generations,” they wrote.

Authors of a related commentary advocated for addressing poverty to reduce abuse. They called the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit (CTC) “some of the most powerful anti-poverty programs in the United States.” They also pointed to research linking increased tax credits and Medicaid expansion to declines in maltreatment and neglect.

“The emerging evidence of the prevention benefits of expanded CTC should serve as a call to action for pediatricians to double-down on advocacy efforts for anti-poverty programs, such as childcare subsidies, tax credits, cash transfer programs, low-income housing infrastructure, and expanded Medicaid assistance, which will bolster the economic resources of families and reduce the risk of maltreatment across the life course,” they wrote.



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