Poverty, race/ethnicity, and psychiatric disorder: a study of rural children

Am J Public Health. 2001 Sep;91(9):1494-8. doi: 10.2105/ajph.91.9.1494.


Objectives: This study examined the effect of poverty on the prevalence of psychiatric disorder in rural Black and White children.

Methods: A representative sample of 541 Black children and 379 White children aged 9 to 17 was drawn from 4 predominantly rural counties. Structured interviews with parents and children collected information on psychiatric disorders, absolute and relative poverty, and risk factors for psychiatric disorder.

Results: Three-month prevalence of psychiatric disorder was similar to that found in other community samples (20%). Federal criteria for poverty were met by 18% of the White and 52% of the Black families. Black and White children were exposed to equal numbers of risk factors overall, but the association between poverty and psychopathology was stronger for White children (odds ratio [OR] = 2.1; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.1, 4.2) than for Black children (OR = 1.5; 95% CI = 0.9, 2.6). Family history of mental illness, poor parenting, and residential instability mediated this association in both groups.

Conclusions: In this rural sample, poverty was only weakly associated with child psychiatric disorders. Risk factors for both racial/ethnic groups were family mental illness, multiple moves, lack of parental warmth, lax supervision, and harsh punishment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Parenting / ethnology
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Population Dynamics / statistics & numerical data
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Whites / psychology*
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data*