Child abuse rises with income inequality, study shows

by Melissa Osgood

As the Great Recession deepened and income inequality became more pronounced, county-by-county rates of child maltreatment – from sexual, physical and emotional abuse to traumatic brain injuries and death – worsened, according to a nationwide study by Cornell University.

The -child maltreatment study, to be published in the March 2014 edition of the peer-review journal Pediatrics, covers all 3,142 American counties from 2005-09, and is one of the most comprehensive of its kind and the first to target child abuse in places with the greatest gap between rich and poor.

"Our study is the first to demonstrate that increases in income inequality are associated with increases in ," said John J. Eckenrode, professor of human development and director of the Family Life Development Center in the College of Human Ecology. "More equal societies, states and communities have fewer health and social problems than less equal ones – that much was known. Our study extends the list of unfavorable child outcomes associated with income inequality to include child abuse and neglect."

Nearly 3 million children younger than 18 are physically abused, sexually abused, physically neglected or emotionally abused each year in the United States, the Cornell researchers noted. That is about 4 percent of the youth population – and those are just the officially documented cases.

"Certainly, poor counties with general, overall poverty have significant problems with ," Eckenrode said. "We were more interested in geographic areas with wide variations in income – think of counties encompassing affluent suburbs and impoverished inner cities, or think of rich/poor Brooklyn, New York – that's where income inequalities are most pronounced. That's where the kids are really hurting."

The hurt doesn't stop when kids graduate – if they do – from school, the Cornell researchers observed.

"Child maltreatment is a toxic stressor in the lives of children that may result in childhood mortality and morbidities and have lifelong effects on leading causes of death in adults," they wrote. "This is in addition to long-term effects on mental health, substance use, and criminal behavior … increased rates of unemployment, poverty and Medicaid use in adulthood."

More information: Results of the massive study will be published in the March 2014 journal, Pediatrics, as "Income Inequality and Child Maltreatment in the United States."

Related Stories

Sex abuse triggers early puberty and its problems

date Nov 28, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Puberty can be a tough time for all youth, but for girls who have been sexually abused, it spells double trouble. Sexually abused girls reach puberty before other girls, a new study finds, and early puberty ...

Unemployment linked with child maltreatment

date Oct 03, 2010

The stresses of poverty have long been associated with child abuse and neglect. In a study presented Sunday, Oct. 3, at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco, researchers ...

Recommended for you

Are our schools damaging children's eyes?

date Mar 24, 2015

Shockingly, research has shown a dramatic increase in the number of students leaving secondary school with short-sightedness, or myopia, and a new study published in the Journal Perspectives in Public Health, published by SAG ...

Vitamin D vital for gene expression in developing brains

date Mar 24, 2015

Vitamin D deficiency in mothers leading up to and during pregnancy has fundamental consequences for their offspring's brain development, researchers from University of Western Australia and the Telethon Kids ...

Chef-enhanced school meals increase healthy food consumption

date Mar 23, 2015

Schools collaborating with a professionally trained chef to improve the taste of healthy meals significantly increased students' fruit and vegetable consumption, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.