The association between child maltreatment and adult poverty – A systematic review of longitudinal research

Child maltreatment is a global problem affecting millions of children and is associated with an array of cumulative negative outcomes later in life, including unemployment and financial difficulties. Although establishing child maltreatment as a causal mechanism for adult economic outcomes is fraught with difficulty, understanding the relationship between the two is essential to reducing such inequality. This paper presents findings from a systematic review of longitudinal research examining experiences of child maltreatment and economic outcomes in adulthood. A systematic search of seven databases found twelve eligible retrospective and prospective cohort studies. From the available evidence, there was a relatively clear relationship between ‘child maltreatment’ and poorer economic outcomes such as reduced income, unemployment, lower level of job skill and fewer assets, over and above the influence of family of origin socio-economic status. Despite an extremely limited evidence base, neglect had a consistent relationship with a number of long-term economic outcomes, while physical abuse has a more consistent relationship with income and employment. Studies examining sexual abuse found less of an association with income and employment, although they did find a relationship other outcomes such as sickness absence, assets, welfare receipt and financial insecurity. Nonetheless, all twelve studies showed some association between at least one maltreatment type and at least one economic measure. The task for future research is to clarify the relationship between specific maltreatment types and specific economic outcomes, taking account of how this may be influenced by gender and life course stage.


Lisa Bunting, Gavin Davidson, Claire McCartan, Jennifer Hanratty, Paul Bywaters, Will Mason and Nicole Steils


Child Abuse and Neglect (Vol.77), March 2018, pp 121-133

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