How do economic downturns affect the mental health of children? Evidence from the National Health Interview Survey

Ezra Golberstein, Gilbert Gonzales, Ellen Meara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Research linking economic conditions and health often does not consider children's mental health problems, which are the most common and consequential health issues for children and adolescents. We examine the effects of unemployment rates and housing prices on well-validated child and adolescent mental health outcomes and use of special education services for emotional problems in the 2001–2013 National Health Interview Survey. We find that the effects of economic conditions on children's mental health are clinically and economically meaningful; children's mental health outcomes worsen as the economy weakens. The effects of economic conditions on child and adolescent mental health are pervasive, found in almost every subgroup that we examine. The use of special education services for emotional problems also rises when economic conditions worsen. Our analyses of possible mechanisms that link economic conditions to child mental health suggest that parental unemployment cannot fully explain the relationship between economic conditions and child mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)955-970
Number of pages16
JournalHealth Economics (United Kingdom)
Volume28
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported by a grant‐in‐aid from the University of Minnesota, Office of the Vice President for Research, and by the Minnesota Population Center grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (5R24HD041023). We are grateful for helpful feedback from Padmaja Ayyagari, David Cutler, Christopher (Kitt) Carpenter, Daniel Eisenberg, and seminar participants at ASHEcon 2016, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, and Yale University. We are especially grateful to Patricia Barnes of the National Center for Health Statistics for her assistance with accessing restricted National Health Interview Survey data. This research was conducted although the authors were Special Sworn Status researchers of the U.S. Census Bureau at the Center for Economic Studies. Research results and conclusions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Census Bureau or the National Center for Health Statistics.

Keywords

  • children
  • economic conditions
  • mental health
  • unemployment

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