Teenage Delinquent Behaviors Associated With Recession During Infancy

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

US teenagers born during the early 1980s were found to have been slightly more prone to drinking, smoking, theft and arrests due to macroeconomic conditions during the first year of their life, according to new research from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University (SUNY).

The current economic crisis has received much attention from policy makers, although the focus has been more on short-term effects. Long-term influences of financial crises have generally not been examined previously, especially on young children, according to the researchers.

So Seethalakshmi Ramanathan, M.B.B.S., D.P.M., and colleagues decided to examine the relationship between high unemployment rates during the recession in the early 80s, and the rates of subsequent adolescent behaviors. They used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, which included a group of nearly 9,000 adolescents born between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 1984.

The study, published Online First by the Archives of General Psychiatry, focused on babies born around the time of the 1980 and 1981-82 recessions, when unemployment rates around the country ranged from 6.6 percent to 11.25 percent.

Ramanathan said the study could offer implications of the current economic crisis. “The mechanisms involved maybe different in intensity and severity, (but) based on the study it seems like there would be some effects,” she said.

Previous studies have suggested that widespread economic strain could negatively impact children in the short term. In fact, one group of researchers found that the rate of serious physical abuse towards children spiked during the economic crash of 2007.

“The results demonstrate a strong correlation between the unemployment rate during infancy and subsequent behavioral problems. This finding suggests that unfavorable economic conditions during infancy may create circumstances that can affect the psychological development of the infant and lead to the development of behavioral problems in adolescence,” the study authors note.

For their study, Ramanathan and colleagues looked at data from the 1997 Youth Survey. Teenagers were asked about drug, alcohol and gun use, arrests, theft and other negative behaviors. The team was also able to determine the economic circumstances for the region in which each child spent his or her first two years of life.

They found that some of the delinquent behaviors were more common among children in regions where higher unemployment rates existed during their infancy.

According to the study, teens that spent the first few years of infancy in a region that experienced a one percent drop in employment were seventeen percent more likely to be arrested. Also, kids who spent the first years of their life in similar regions were nine percent more likely to smoke marijuana, seven percent more likely to smoke cigarettes, six percent more likely to drink alcohol, nine percent more likely to become affiliated with gangs, and eleven percent more likely to steal.

The study results did not show any results for an increase in hard drug use or violent assaultive behaviors. However, the study did find that the numbers were accurate for all kids regardless of what type of home setting they grew up in, be it poor or wealthy.

“These results suggest that, irrespective of socioeconomic status, unfavorable economic conditions during infancy may create circumstances that can have an adverse effect on the psychological development of the infant and lead to the development of behavioral problems,” the authors wrote in their study.

Ramanathan told Reuters that it is not clear why certain behaviors were more likely in regions impacted by recessions.

“People have talked about how economic stability can help parents invest in the child’s development and how economic instability can affect family dynamics and the ability to be an effective parent,” she said.

However, she noted, this is just speculation, and more research is needed to tease out the factors that are taking a stronghold in infancy and spilling out in teenage delinquency.

“We can’t say high unemployment caused the effects. We don’t know what the mediating factors are,” Ramanathan told Reuters.

“Although the past does not necessarily predict the future, it provides important lessons. Our findings suggest an important static risk factor that mental health professionals may want to take into account when dealing with children exposed to the current economic crisis,” wrote the authors.

“We hope that the study inspires mental health professionals to look for potential causes and explore interventions that can mitigate some of these long-term consequences,” the authors concluded.

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