ADHD News & Research

Financial Challenges and ADHD Risk

A new study suggests that family financial difficulties increase the risk of children developing ADHD.

June 10, 2015

A new study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School looked at 8,000 children in the UK who were tested for ADHD at age seven. Parent-reported “financial difficulties” in the early years of a child’s life (defined as birth to two years old) correlated strongly to the likelihood of the child being diagnosed with ADHD at age seven, even when controlling for other factors like overall weekly income, parental education level, or employment status.

Since net income wasn’t directly correlated to ADHD risk, researchers hypothesized that parental stress — related to each family’s unique circumstances — may have a greater effect than socioeconomic factors alone. In other words, two families could make the same amount of money, but one could experience acute financial difficulties while the other feels more secure. For children living in the financially insecure families, this may lead to a greater likelihood of later developing ADHD.

This theory was backed up by other factors in the study that correlated to higher ADHD risk, including a family history of domestic violence or parental substance abuse. These instances of “psychosocial adversity” also lead to higher rates of parental stress – and, by extension, higher rates of child stress, which may be a contributing factor in ADHD diagnoses.

“It isn’t what children specifically exposed to,” says Abigail Russell, the lead researcher on the study. “It’s the cumulative impact, or the fact that they are exposed to psychosocial adversity in general,” that contributes to the overall impact.

While the results seem to bode poorly for low-income or financially insecure families, researchers hope the data from the study can be used to help reduce overall ADHD risk. Current research indicates that ADHD is highly heritable, but early childhood environmental factors appear to play a part as well.

“If we can find ways to intervene early on,” says Russell, “then maybe we can prevent more children from going on to develop ADHD.”