The current financial crisis and socio-economic adversity, scientists fear, may have lasting effects on children's mental health.
Researchers from Iowa State University's Institute for Social and Behavioral Research say that children from families that fall into poverty can show poor mental health by the time they become teens.
They came to this conclusion after carrying out a study of 485 Iowa adolescents over a 10-year period (1991-2001).
The researchers say that early socio-economic adversity experienced by children may disrupt their successful transition into adulthood by endangering their social, academic and occupational attainment as young adults.
"The main finding shows the continuity of family adversity over generations - from family-of-origin to a young adult's family. In other words, it's the transmission of poverty," said K.A.S. Wickrama, an Iowa State University professor of human development and family studies and the study's lead researcher.
"Other articles have shown intergenerational transmission of adversity, but our study also shows the mechanisms that this influence operates through. We had the luxury of data to investigate that because we have been following 500 Iowa families since 1989," he added.
Since 1989, the researchers have been studying more than 500 families from an eight-county area northwest of Ames in the Iowa Youth and Families Project.
For this study, they assessed the family-of-origin's socio-economic status in 1991 by using measures of family structure and parental education, as well as the number of family negative life events.
The researchers then determined the number of early life events by the adolescent subjects - such as experiencing cohabitation, pregnancy, parenthood, marriage, or leaving home at an earlier than average age.
They also measured depressive symptoms exhibited from adolescence to young adulthood by the subjects, as well as their social status attainment as young adults.
They found that family adversity persists in children by initiating depressive symptoms in adolescence. That influence increases the occurrence of early disruptive life events.
"Our research shows that if you rush to adulthood, it is very stressful because you are not ready for that. These two mechanisms, early events and depressive symptoms, mutually reinforce each other and ultimately contribute to failures in young adulthood - such as low educational level, unemployment, poor close relations, poor parent relationships and less social participation," Wickrama said.
The study has been published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.