Although significant associations between childhood socio-economic status (SES) and adult mental disorders have been widely documented, SES has been defined using several different indicators often considered alone. Little research has examined the relative importance of these different indicators in accounting for the overall associations of childhood SES with adult outcomes. Nor has previous research distinguished associations of childhood SES with first onsets of mental disorders in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood from those with persistence of these disorders into adulthood in accounting for the overall associations between childhood SES and adult mental disorders. Disaggregated data of this sort are presented here for the associations of childhood SES with a wide range of adult DSM-IV mental disorders in the US National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), a nationally-representative sample of 5692 adults. Childhood SES was assessed retrospectively with information about parental education and occupation and childhood family financial adversity. Associations of these indicators with first onset of 20 DSM-IV disorders that included anxiety, mood, behavioral, and substance disorders at different life-course stages (childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and mid-later adulthood) and the persistence/severity of these disorders were examined using discrete-time survival analysis. Lifetime disorders and their ages-of-onset were assessed retrospectively with the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Different aspects of childhood SES predicted onset, persistence, and severity of mental disorders. Childhood financial hardship predicted onset of all classes of disorders at every life-course stage with odds-ratios (ORs) of 1.7-2.3. Childhood financial hardship was unrelated, in comparison, to disorder persistence or severity. Low parental education, although unrelated to disorder onset, significantly predicted disorder persistence and severity, whereas parental occupation was unrelated to onset, persistence, or severity. Some, but not all, of these associations were explained by other co-occurring childhood adversities. These specifications have important implications for mental health interventions targeting low-SES children.
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