Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Interaction between socioeconomic status and parental history of ADHD determines prevalence

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2018 Mar;59(3):213-222. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12775. Epub 2017 Aug 12.


Background: Many studies have reported a higher prevalence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) among disadvantaged populations, but few have considered how parental history of ADHD might modify that relationship. We evaluated whether the prevalence of ADHD varies by socioeconomic status (SES) and parental history of ADHD in a population-sample of elementary school children age 6-14 years.

Methods: We screened all children in grades 1-5 in 17 schools in one North Carolina (U.S.) county for ADHD using teacher rating scales and 1,160 parent interviews, including an ADHD structured interview (DISC). We combined parent and teacher ratings to determine DSM-IV ADHD status. Data analysis was restricted to 967 children with information about parental history of ADHD. SES was measured by family income and respondent education.

Results: We found an interaction between family income and parental history of ADHD diagnosis (p = .016). The SES gradient was stronger in families without a parental history and weaker among children with a parental history. Among children without a parental history of ADHD diagnosis, low income children had 6.2 times the odds of ADHD (95% CI 3.4-11.3) as high income children after adjusting for covariates. Among children with a parental history, all had over 10 times the odds of ADHD as high income children without a parental history but the SES gradient between high and low income children was less pronounced [odds ratio (OR) = 1.4, 95% CI 0.6-3.5].

Conclusions: Socioeconomic status and parental history of ADHD are each strong risk factors for ADHD that interact to determine prevalence. More research is needed to dissect the components of SES that contribute to risk of ADHD. Future ADHD research should evaluate whether the strength of other environmental risk factors vary by parental history. Early identification and interventions for children with low SES or parental histories of ADHD should be explored.

Keywords: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; epidemiology; family history; prevalence; social class.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class*