Public Health

Kids With Mental Health Issues Make Less Money As Adults

People who battled depression, drug abuse and other psychological conditions as children see long-term effects — in their wallets.

Unhappy Child

hide captionChildren with a range of psychological problems made $10,400 less a year than siblings who didn't have similar issues.

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Adults who had mental health issues as kids are less likely to get married and will make about $10,400 less a year compared to siblings without psychological problems, says research just published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

The problems also crimp how far they go in school — but that effect is relatively small, says James P. Smith, the study’s lead author and corporate chair of economics at the nonprofit think tank RAND Corporation.

"Families seem to be able to compensate for that," Smith says. "What they can't do is take care of the rest of life."

One reason for the lifetime income disparity is that people who had psychological conditions during childhood worked seven weeks fewer per year. Smith says this gap can be connected to lingering psychological difficulties that carried over from childhood.

Past research has already established a strong connection between children with poor physical health and economic consequences later in life, Smith says.  However, the long-term financial impact of children's psychological health hasn't been studied as much.

The data were taken from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has followed 5,000 families for 40 years.

Smith says that there is hope in the findings. Targeting psychological problems early makes a difference. "Remedies are out there," Smith says. "That's the positive side of this."

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