Aim: To examine the associations between exposure to socio-economic disadvantage in childhood and smoking in adulthood.
Design: A 25-year longitudinal study of the health, development and adjustment of a birth cohort of 1265 New Zealand children.
Measurements: Assessments of childhood socio-economic disadvantage, smoking in adulthood and potential mediating pathways, including: parental education, family socio-economic status, family living standards and family income; smoking frequency and nicotine dependence at age 25 years; child IQ, educational achievement by age 18 years, conduct problems ages 14-16 years, parental smoking 0-16 years and peer smoking at 16 years.
Findings: Smoking at age 25 was correlated significantly (P < 0.0001) with increasing childhood socio-economic disadvantage. Further, indicators of childhood socio-economic disadvantage were correlated significantly (P < 0.0001) with the intervening variables of childhood intelligence, school achievement, conduct problems and exposure to parental and peer smoking; which in turn were correlated significantly (P < 0.0001) with measures of smoking at age 25. Structural equation modelling suggested that the linkages between the latent factor of childhood disadvantage and later smoking were explained largely by a series of pathways involving cognitive/educational factors, adolescent behavioural adjustment and exposure to parental and peer smoking.
Conclusions: The current study suggested that smoking in adulthood is influenced by childhood socio-economic disadvantage via the mediating pathways of cognitive/educational factors, adolescent behaviour and parental and peer smoking.