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Mental Health

Disadvantaged Children Have Poorer Mental Health, Studies Show

— May 12, 2023

Children in impoverished communities tend to have poorer mental health outcomes.

In an ideal world, there would be no advantage or disadvantage offered by financial resources in terms of brain development. And, in fact, many people would like to be surprised to learn that such a significant disparity does exist in brain development between children from higher-income families and lower-income families. The studies bear out the fact that young people growing up in a home with sufficient financial resources are far less likely to face brain development issues and adverse mental health symptoms than disadvantaged children.

Of course, income inequality is a hot-button issue and is not one with an easy, agreeable solution. Fortunately, the entire issue of income inequality doesn’t have to be solved tomorrow in order to get better results in terms of evening out the playing field for disadvantaged young people. By offering strong social programs that put meaningful money behind support for young people in poverty or near poverty, it’s possible to significantly narrow the gap and help all children get the support they need and deserve.

Disadvantaged Children Have Poorer Mental Health, Studies Show
Photo by Kailash Kumar from Pexels

The information used for the analysis that led to these important results came from the large Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, which is commonly referred to as the ABCD Study. Using data collected from over 10,000 participants, researchers were able to determine that the financial situation of the child’s family played a meaningful role in their brain development. These issues manifested in various forms such as elevated risk factors for mood disorders and low test scores.

One of the concepts that was being tested in this study was the idea that children living in expensive states – those with a high cost of living – would be particularly prone to brain development issues if they were in a financially disadvantaged home. With a higher cost of living, it stands to reason that those lower-income families would be at an even greater disadvantage.

This did prove to be the case through research. What was also found, however, was that those disadvantages could be greatly reduced through the use of aggressive social programs. States that offered strong support in the form of things like tax credits and other assistance were able to flatten the disparity between children in the two groups more successfully than states without such programs. Of course, providing assistance to families in need is about more than just improving brain development, but this is yet another indication of how important it is to take care of everyone within a society.

Some states are already performing quite well in this area, but that’s certainly not the case from coast to coast. If more states take steps in terms of offering more support to the young people that need it most, better outcomes can be enjoyed across the board and more children will be able to get their life off to a good start without facing the challenges that come with brain development issues.


Anti-poverty programs may help reduce disparities in brain development and mental health symptoms in children

State-level macro-economic factors moderate the association of low income with brain structure and mental health in U.S. children

Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study

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