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March 2013Vol. 14, No. 2Economic Downturns and Child Abuse

While previous studies have established that family economic circumstances are a predictor of child abuse, few researchers have examined the extent to which this relationship is causal. A recent study sought to establish causality within this relationship by reexamining the link between family economic conditions and child abuse and factoring in the amount of time that children spend with each parent.

The  authors hypothesized that unemployment among women may reduce incidences of child abuse and neglect by increasing the amount of time that children spend with their mothers as opposed to fathers, given that fathers are more likely to abuse their children. In contrast, disproportionate rates of unemployment among men should increase rates of child abuse. The researchers used California county-level abuse data from 1996 through 2009 along with various unemployment indicators to test their hypotheses. 

The study found that overall economic conditions were not related to child abuse rates. However, when the researchers examined gender-specific effects, they uncovered significant findings. Specifically, male layoffs increased instances of abuse whereas female layoffs decreased rates of abuse. The authors discuss the results and conclude the paper by proposing mechanisms through which economic conditions might affect child abuse.  

"Economic Downturns and Child Abuse," by Jason M. Lindo, Jessamyn Schaller, and Benjamin Hansen is available on Michigan State University's Department of Economics website: (1 MB)