A first-of-its-kind study examining the long-term economic consequences of childhood psychological disorders finds the conditions diminish people's ability to work and earn as adults, costing $2.1 trillion over the lifetimes of all affected Americans.
People who suffer from childhood conditions such as depression and substance abuse are less likely to be married, attain less education and see their income reduced by about 20 percent over their lifetimes, according to findings published online by the journal Social Science & Medicine.
"This study shows childhood psychological disorders can cause significant long-lasting harm and can have far-reaching impact on individuals over their lifetimes," said James P. Smith, the study's lead author and corporate chair of economics at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Our findings illustrate what the enormous potential might be of identifying and treating these problems early in life."
Researchers examined information from a large study that has followed American families for more than 40 years and found evidence that the impact of childhood psychological problems have lasting impact across many measures of economic success. The study is unique because siblings from the same family were followed in the panel, allowing the researchers to compare one sibling with childhood psychological problems to a brother or sister who did not have such problems.
People who reported having psychological problems during childhood averaged $10,400 less income per year when compared to siblings who did not have similar problems. The lower income was partly a consequence of working an average of seven weeks fewer per year.
If about one in 20 adult Americans experienced these psychological problems during their childhood years (about the current prevalence), the total lifetime economic damages for all those affected would be $2.1 trillion. This estimate does not take into consideration the non-economic costs such has lower quality of life.
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