Infants growing up in households struggling with chronic unemployment may face a higher risk for engaging in substance abuse and a range of other delinquent behaviors as adolescents, new research suggests.
The finding is reported in the Dec. 31 online issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.
"The results demonstrate a strong correlation between the unemployment rate during infancy and subsequent behavioral problems," according to the study team led by Seethalakshmi Ramanathan, of SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.
"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 wrote.
To explore the subject, the investigators cross-referenced unemployment statistics between 1980 and 1982 (a time of recession) and data collected by the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 concerning nearly 9,000 adolescents who were born between 1980 and 1984.
The result: The research team found that when homes caring for 1-year-old infants were exposed to even small upticks in their local unemployment rate, the chance that the infant would encounter behavioral problems as an adolescent increased.
Such problems included smoking marijuana or cigarettes, drinking, getting arrested, getting involved with gangs, and engaging in petty or major theft, the study authors noted in a journal news release.
That said, no such link between unemployment downturns and a higher risk for using hard drugs or engaging in violent assault was observed.
"Although the past does not necessarily predict the future, it provides important lessons," Ramanathan's team concluded. "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."
Although the study found an association between economic conditions at the time of birth and behavior problems in adolescence, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.