Macroeconomic environment during infancy as a possible risk factor for adolescent behavioral problems

Seethalakshmi Ramanathan, Natarajan Balasubramanian, Rajeev Krishnadas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Context: Economic difficulties at the individual level can lead to a number of behavioral problems, including substance abuse and delinquent behaviors. Objective: To examine the influence of a nationwide adverse economic environment during infancy, specifically, the high unemployment rates during and after the 1980 and 1981-1982 recessions, on rates of subsequent adolescent substance use and delinquent behaviors. Design: We used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and estimated logit regressions to examine the effect of changes in unemployment rates during infancy on the incidence of adolescent behavioral problems, controlling for known youth, family, and environmental risk factors. Setting: Adolescents living in the United States in 1997. Participants: Nationally representative sample of 8984 adolescents born from January 1, 1980, through December 31, 1984. Main Outcome Measures: Probability of engaging in substance use (marijuana, smoking, alcohol, and hard [ie, illegal] drugs) and delinquent behaviors (arrest, handgun use, gang affiliation, petty and major theft, property destruction, and assaultive behavior). Results: Exposure to a 1% deviation from mean regional unemployment rates at the age of 1 year was associated with an increase in the odds ratios of engaging in marijuana use (1.09 [95% CI, 1.04-1.14]), smoking (1.07 [1.03-1.11]), alcohol use (1.06 [1.02-1.10]), arrest (1.17 [1.09-1.25]), gang affiliation (1.09 [1.001.19]), and petty (1.06 [1.01-1.10]) and major theft (1.11 [1.05-1.18]). No significant associations were noted with use of hard drugs, property destruction, and assaultive behavior. Conclusions: The macroeconomic environment during infancy can have serious long-term effects on substance use and delinquent behavior. These potential longterm effects can play an important role in policy making for adolescent mental health care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-225
Number of pages8
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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