Context Economic difficulties at the individual level can lead to a number of behavioral problems, including substance abuse and delinquent behaviors.
Objective To examine the influence of a nationwide adverse economic environment during infancy, specifically, the high unemployment rates during and after the 1980 and 1981-1982 recessions, on rates of subsequent adolescent substance use and delinquent behaviors.
Design We used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and estimated logit regressions to examine the effect of changes in unemployment rates during infancy on the incidence of adolescent behavioral problems, controlling for known youth, family, and environmental risk factors.
Setting Adolescents living in the United States in 1997.
Participants Nationally representative sample of 8984 adolescents born from January 1, 1980, through December 31, 1984.
Main Outcome Measures Probability of engaging in substance use (marijuana, smoking, alcohol, and hard [ie, illegal] drugs) and delinquent behaviors (arrest, handgun use, gang affiliation, petty and major theft, property destruction, and assaultive behavior).
Results Exposure to a 1% deviation from mean regional unemployment rates at the age of 1 year was associated with an increase in the odds ratios of engaging in marijuana use (1.09 [95% CI, 1.04-1.14]), smoking (1.07 [1.03-1.11]), alcohol use (1.06 [1.02-1.10]), arrest (1.17 [1.09-1.25]), gang affiliation (1.09 [1.00-1.19]), and petty (1.06 [1.01-1.10]) and major theft (1.11 [1.05-1.18]). No significant associations were noted with use of hard drugs, property destruction, and assaultive behavior.
Conclusions The macroeconomic environment during infancy can have serious long-term effects on substance use and delinquent behavior. These potential long-term effects can play an important role in policy making for adolescent mental health care.