The lasting consequences of childhood sexual abuse on human capital and economic well-being

Health Econ. 2022 Sep;31(9):1954-1972. doi: 10.1002/hec.4557. Epub 2022 Jul 11.


Childhood sexual abuse is a prevalent problem, yet understanding of later-in-life outcomes is limited due to unobservable determinants. I examine impacts on human capital and economic well-being by estimating likely ranges around causal effects, using a nationally representative U.S. sample. Findings suggest that childhood sexual abuse leads to lower educational attainment and worse labor market outcomes. Results are robust to partial identification methods applying varying assumptions about unobservable confounding, using information on confounding from observables including other types of child abuse. I show that associations between childhood sexual abuse and education outcomes and earnings are at least as large for males as for females. Childhood sexual abuse by someone other than a caregiver is as influential or more so than caregiver sexual abuse in predicting worse outcomes. Considering the societal burden of childhood sexual abuse, findings could inform policy and resource allocation decisions for development and implementation of best practices for prevention and support.

Keywords: adverse childhood experiences; child health; child maltreatment; human capital.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers
  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Offenses*