Department of Economics and Business Economics

Parental income as a marker for socioeconomic position during childhood and later risk of developing a secondary care-diagnosed mental disorder examined across the full diagnostic spectrum: a national cohort study

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Background: Links between parental socioeconomic position during childhood and subsequent risks of developing mental disorders have rarely been examined across the diagnostic spectrum. We conducted a comprehensive analysis of parental income level, including income mobility, during childhood and risks for developing mental disorders diagnosed in secondary care in young adulthood. Methods: National cohort study of persons born in Denmark 1980–2000 (N = 1,051,265). Parental income was measured during birth year and at ages 5, 10 and 15. Follow-up began from 15th birthday until mental disorder diagnosis or 31 December 2016, whichever occurred first. Hazard ratios and cumulative incidence were estimated. Results: A quarter (25.2%; 95% CI 24.8–25.6%) of children born in the lowest income quintile families will have a secondary care-diagnosed mental disorder by age 37, versus 13.5% (13.2–13.9%) of those born in the highest income quintile. Longer time spent living in low-income families was associated with higher risks of developing mental disorders. Associations were strongest for substance misuse and personality disorders and weaker for mood disorders and anxiety/somatoform disorders. An exception was eating disorders, with low parental income being associated with attenuated risk. For all diagnostic categories examined except for eating disorders, downward socioeconomic mobility was linked with higher subsequent risk and upward socioeconomic mobility with lower subsequent risk of developing mental disorders. Conclusions: Except for eating disorders, low parental income during childhood is associated with subsequent increased risk of mental disorders diagnosed in secondary care across the diagnostic spectrum. Early interventions to mitigate the disadvantages linked with low income, and better opportunities for upward socioeconomic mobility could reduce social and mental health inequalities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number323
JournalBMC Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

    Research areas

  • Childhood environment, Income trajectory, Mental health, Socioeconomic position

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