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Income Inequality Raises Risk of Child Abuse

Update Date: Feb 11, 2014 04:19 PM EST

Income inequality increases the risk of child abuse, according to a new study.

Researchers at Cornell University looked at statistics from 3,142 American counties from 2005 to 2009 and found that income inequality increases the risk of child maltreatment.

"Our study is the first to demonstrate that increases in income inequality are associated with increases in child maltreatment," John J. Eckenrode, professor of human development and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, said in a news release. "More equal societies, states and communities have fewer health and social problems than less equal ones - that much was known. Our study extends the list of unfavorable child outcomes associated with income inequality to include child abuse and neglect."

"Certainly, poor counties with general, overall poverty have significant problems with child abuse," Eckenrode said. "We were more interested in geographic areas with wide variations in income - think of counties encompassing affluent suburbs and impoverished inner cities, or think of rich/poor Brooklyn, New York - that's where income inequalities are most pronounced. That's where the kids are really hurting."

Researchers stressed that the pain of abuse can last a lifetime.

"Child maltreatment is a toxic stressor in the lives of children that may result in childhood mortality and morbidities and have lifelong effects on leading causes of death in adults," researchers wrote. "This is in addition to long-term effects on mental health, substance use, risky sexual behavior and criminal behavior ... increased rates of unemployment, poverty and Medicaid use in adulthood."

 The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.

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