Does Income Inequality Put Kids at Higher Child Abuse Risk?

Mar 3, 2014

Cornell Study on Income Inequality and Child Abuse

  According to a study out of Cornell University, the Great Recession caused higher instances of child abuse and neglect. An analysis of instances of child abuse between 2005 and 2009 in all of the 3,144 counties and county equivalents in the U.S pointed to rising income inequality as a major factor in increased rates of child abuse.

Cornell researchers say that every year in the U.S., nearly three million children younger than 18 are sexually or emotionally abused or physically neglected. According to John Eckenrode, a professor of Human Development at Cornell, increased inequality and poverty only exacerbate the situation.

“The strength of that relationship between inequality and maltreatment was higher in the poor counties than in the not-so-poor counties – although it held for all counties across the country,” the Professor added.

Eckenrode thinks social programs designed to alleviate poverty and inequality, like a minimum wage increase, tax reform, childcare initiatives and early education, could reduce instances of child abuse. The professor pointed out that those programs don’t reach enough families to seriously curb abuse rates. However, Eckenrode believes that if inequality rates could be reduced by even ten percent it would make a noticable difference.

“We predict [a decrease in inequality rates] would result in about a fifteen percent drop in the number of victims of maltreatment in the country,” said Eckenrode, “That translates into over one hundred thousand child victims. So it’s not a trivial number. Sometimes people feel like, ‘These are big problems. They’re intractable. I don’t know how you even imagine changing something like that,’ but you don’t need huge changes to see real benefits for children.”

The massive study will be publicized in the March 2014 journal Pediatrics.