Economic predictors of child maltreatment in an Australian population-based birth cohort

James C. Doidge*, Daryl J. Higgins, Paul Delfabbro, Ben Edwards, Suzanne Vassallo, John W. Toumbourou, Leonie Segal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


A correlation between socioeconomic disadvantage and child maltreatment has long been observed, but the drivers of this association are poorly understood. We sought to estimate the effects of economic factors on risk of child maltreatment after adjusting for other known influences using the Australian Temperament Project, a population-based birth cohort of 2443 individuals and their parents. We used logistic regression to estimate associations of childhood economic factors (parental education, occupation, and unemployment; type of housing; and retrospective perception of poverty) with retrospective reports of perceived child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and witnessing of domestic violence), controlling for demographic factors, parental mental health and substance use, and child health. We then used these estimates to approximate the proportions of child maltreatment—population attributable fractions—that are theoretically preventable by addressing childhood economic disadvantage. Economic factors were associated with all types of child maltreatment. For the most part, these associations diminished only partially when controlling for noneconomic confounders, supporting hypotheses of causal relationships. Jointly, economic factors were significant predictors of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and witnessing of domestic violence but not of emotional abuse or neglect. Retrospective perceptions of childhood poverty were, in particular, strongly associated with most forms of child maltreatment but not with sexual abuse after accounting for other economic factors. We estimated that 27% of all child maltreatment was jointly attributable to economic factors. These findings suggest that strategies that reduce economic disadvantage are likely to hold significant potential to reduce the prevalence of child maltreatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-25
Number of pages12
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


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