…lifting children out of poverty can diminish some psychiatric symptoms…A study published in last week’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association looked at children before and after their families rose above the poverty level. Rates of deviant and aggressive behaviors, the study noted, declined as incomes rose.
“This comes closer to pointing to a causal relationship than we can usually get,” said Dr. E. Jane Costello, a psychiatric epidemiologist at Duke who was the lead author.
The study tracked 1420 children, many of whom lived on an Indian reservation. A local casino opening lifted many out of poverty, and also improved their mental health:
…the rate of psychiatric symptoms among the children who had risen from poverty was dropping. As time went on, the children were less inclined to stubbornness, temper tantrums, stealing, bullying and vandalism – all symptoms of conduct and oppositional defiant disorders.
After four years, the rate of such behaviors had dropped to the same levels found among children whose families had never been poor. Children whose families broke the poverty threshold had a 40 percent decrease in behavioral symptoms. But the payments had no effect on children whose families had been unable to rise from poverty or on the children whose families had not been poor to begin with.
Even I, author of a book called In Praise of Commercial Culture (see to the right), am surprised by this result. Supposedly the wealthier parents were now able to spend more time with their children, thus improving their mental health. I wonder whether the key factor instead might have been improved behavior on the part of the parents.
Here is the abstract, plus you can buy a copy of the original research for $12.
Addendum: David Levy, citing Adam Smith, wonders if it isn’t the growth rate of income that makes people better off, rather than the level.