BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE:

Child maltreatment (abuse and neglect) has established effects on mental health. Less is known about its influence on adult economic circumstances. We aimed to establish associations of child maltreatment with such outcomes and explore potential pathways.

METHODS:

We used 1958 British birth cohort data (N = 8076) to examine associations of child neglect and abuse with adult (50 years) long-term sickness absence, not in employment, education or training (NEET), lacking assets, income-related support, poor qualifications, financial insecurity, manual social class, and social mobility. We assessed mediation of associations by 16-year cognition and mental health.

RESULTS:

Abuse prevalence varied from 1% (sexual) to 10% (psychological); 16% were neglected. A total of 21% experienced 1 maltreatment type, 10% experienced ≥2 types. Sexual and nonsexual abuse were associated with several outcomes; eg, for sexual abuse, adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of income-related support was 1.75 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.12–2.72). Associations were little affected by potential mediating factors. Neglect was associated with several adult outcomes (eg, aOR of NEET was 1.43 [95% CI, 1.10–1.85]) and associations were mediated by cognition and mental health (primarily by cognition): percent explained varied between 4% (NEET) to 70% (poor qualifications). In general, the risk of poor outcome increased by number of maltreatment types (eg, aOR for long-term sickness absence increased from 1.0 [reference] to 1.76 [95% CI, 1.32–2.35] to 2.69 [95% CI, 1.96–3.68], respectively, for 0, 1, and ≥2 types of maltreatment.

CONCLUSIONS:

Childhood maltreatment is associated with poor midadulthood socioeconomic outcomes, with accumulating risk for those experiencing multiple types of maltreatment. Cognitive ability and mental health are implicated in the pathway to outcome for neglect but not abuse.

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