A large study of European residents, one of the first to look at the effects of growing up amid financial strain, family conflict – or both – links those kinds of childhood adversities to a wide range of social and health difficulties in adulthood.
Behavioral health researchers have previously noted the association between these aspects of a child’s experiences and the problems people often face later in life, but usually those studies have looked at just one type of adversity and traced its impact, the researchers stated. This study examines both and teases out the interplay between economic hardship and family conflict.
Among the problems associated with these difficult childhood experiences are physical ailments like cancer, unhealthy behaviors like substance misuse, mental health issues like depression and social ills like divorce.
The results indicated that the more a subject reported experiencing these conditions growing up, the more likely they were to suffer problems. Experiencing both money troubles and family conflict seemed to have a compounding effect, exacerbating and intensifying each other.
“This is highly problematic in terms of disease burden,” the researchers wrote in a peer-reviewed study published March 29 in BMJ Global Health, “given that a quarter of the European population report having experienced these aspects of (childhood adversity).”
Interestingly, the study found clear interplay between financial strain in childhood and socioeconomic deprivation in adulthood, but no link between conflict in the childhood home and later socioeconomic deprivation. The study found that socioeconomic disadvantage in adulthood was a “mediator” for financial strain, but not conflict.
The six-member research team, led by Ziggi Ivan Santini at the Danish National Institute of Public Health, said addressing the public health consequences of childhood adversities is going to require more than taking on issues of social inequality.
Rather, they recommended a “life-course” approach to managing public health in which childhood adversity is monitored and intervention takes place at different stages of life. In this model, physicians, mental health experts and social services professionals would team up to provide the necessary care and bring in other disciplines and sectors as needed.
The European study was based on data collected in face-to-face surveys with nearly 35,500 subjects in 19 European countries in 2014.