Are Infants that Grow Up in Recession-Ravaged Homes Likelier to Become Delinquents?

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A study recently published in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that children adversely affected by economic downturns as infants may be likelier to engage in delinquent behaviors and substance abuse when they are older adolescents and young adults.

Culling data from 1997’s National Longitudinal Study of Youth, researchers at the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University examined a nationally representative sample of almost 9,000 young people born between 1980 and 1984. According to the study, infants exposed to a 1 percent deviation from regional unemployment rate average were found to have greater odds of using marijuana, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, as well as a greater likelihood than their cohorts of being arrested, affiliating with gangs or engaging in both petty or major theft.

Researchers sought to examine the potential consequences of the 1980 and 1981 to 1982 recessions on adolescents, in particular the possibility that living in an economically-disadvantaged home during the timeframe was likelier to produce a young person involved in substance abuse or criminal activity. In late 1982, the national unemployment rate stood at 10.8 percent - the highest such rate in the United States since the Great Depression.

“The macroeconomic environment during infancy can have serious long-term effects on substance use and delinquent behavior,” the report reads. “These potential long-term effects can play an important role in policy making for adolescent mental health care.”

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