To examine the relation between county-level income inequality and rates of child maltreatment.
Data on substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect from 2005 to 2009 were obtained from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. County-level data on income inequality and children in poverty were obtained from the American Community Survey. Data for additional control variables were obtained from the American Community Survey and the Health Resources and Services Administration Area Resource File. The Gini coefficient was used as the measure of income inequality. Generalized additive models were estimated to explore linear and nonlinear relations among income inequality, poverty, and child maltreatment. In all models, state was included as a fixed effect to control for state-level differences in victim rates.
Considerable variation in income inequality and child maltreatment rates was found across the 3142 US counties. Income inequality, as well as child poverty rate, was positively and significantly correlated with child maltreatment rates at the county level. Controlling for child poverty, demographic and economic control variables, and state-level variation in maltreatment rates, there was a significant linear effect of inequality on child maltreatment rates (P < .0001). This effect was stronger for counties with moderate to high levels of child poverty.
Higher income inequality across US counties was significantly associated with higher county-level rates of child maltreatment. The findings contribute to the growing literature linking greater income inequality to a range of poor health and well-being outcomes in infants and children.