Early-life family income and subjective well-being in adolescents

PLoS One. 2017 Jul 17;12(7):e0179380. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179380. eCollection 2017.


Purpose: Subjective well-being (SWB) in youths positively relates to family income, however its association with income during childhood is unclear. Using longitudinal data from the US Panel Study of Income Dynamics (n = 2234 adolescents, age 12-19 years), we examined whether the timing and duration of low family income in childhood was associated with adolescent SWB.

Methods: We categorized family income during childhood into state-specific quintiles. Adolescent SWB was assessed using a 12-item questionnaire (score range 3-18). We used marginal structural modelling to test for sensitive periods of exposure to low income and tested cumulative effects of income by modelling the number of years spent in the poorest income quintiles.

Results: A period in early childhood (age 0-2 years) was particularly sensitive to low family income. Adolescent SWB was 1.65 (95% CI 0.40, 2.91) points lower in those who grew up in the poorest income quintiles during early childhood compared with the top quintile. Further, each childhood year spent in the poorest income quintiles was associated with a 0.10 point (95% CI 0.04, 0.16) lower SWB score in adolescence.

Conclusions: The timing and duration of low family income in childhood both predict individual differences in adolescent SWB. Further studies are needed to clarify the mechanisms of these models and inform public policies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Welfare / psychology*
  • Child Welfare / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Poverty / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult