IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Socioeconomic inequalities and mental health problems in children and adolescents: A systematic review


  • Reiss, Franziska


Socioeconomic inequalities in health are an important topic in social sciences and public health research. However, little is known about socioeconomic disparities and mental health problems in childhood and adolescence. This study systematically reviews publications on the relationships between various commonly used indicators of socioeconomic status (SES) and mental health outcomes for children and adolescents aged four to 18 years. Studies published in English or German between 1990 and 2011 were included if they reported at least one marker of socioeconomic status (an index or indicators, e.g., household income, poverty, parental education, parental occupation status, or family affluence) and identified mental health problems using validated instruments. In total, 55 published studies met the inclusion criteria, and 52 studies indicated an inverse relationship between socioeconomic status and mental health problems in children and adolescents. Socioeconomically disadvantaged children and adolescents were two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems. Low socioeconomic status that persisted over time was strongly related to higher rates of mental health problems. A decrease in socioeconomic status was associated with increasing mental health problems. The strength of the correlation varied with age and with different indicators of socioeconomic status, whereas heterogeneous findings were reported for gender and types of mental health problems. The included studies indicated that the theoretical approaches of social causation and classical selection are not mutually exclusive across generations and specific mental health problems; these processes create a cycle of deprivation and mental health problems. The review draws attention to the diversity of measures used to evaluate socioeconomic status, which might have influenced the comparability of international epidemiological studies. Furthermore, the review highlights the need for individual-level early childhood interventions as well as a reduction in socioeconomic inequalities at a societal level to improve mental health in childhood and adolescence.

Suggested Citation

  • Reiss, Franziska, 2013. "Socioeconomic inequalities and mental health problems in children and adolescents: A systematic review," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 24-31.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:90:y:2013:i:c:p:24-31
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.04.026

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mendelson, Tamar & Kubzansky, Laura D. & Datta, Geetanjali D. & Buka, Stephen L., 2008. "Relation of female gender and low socioeconomic status to internalizing symptoms among adolescents: A case of double jeopardy?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(6), pages 1284-1296, March.
    2. McMunn, Anne M. & Nazroo, James Y. & Marmot, Michael G. & Boreham, Richard & Goodman, Robert, 2001. "Children's emotional and behavioural well-being and the family environment: findings from the Health Survey for England," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 53(4), pages 423-440, August.
    3. Currie, Candace & Molcho, Michal & Boyce, William & Holstein, Bjørn & Torsheim, Torbjørn & Richter, Matthias, 2008. "Researching health inequalities in adolescents: The development of the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) Family Affluence Scale," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(6), pages 1429-1436, March.
    4. Najman, J.M. & Hayatbakhsh, M.R. & Clavarino, A. & Bor, W. & O'Callaghan, M.J. & Williams, G.M., 2010. "Family poverty over the early life course and recurrent adolescent and young adult anxiety and depression: A longitudinal study," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 100(9), pages 1719-1723.
    5. McLaughlin, Katie A. & Breslau, Joshua & Green, Jennifer Greif & Lakoma, Matthew D. & Sampson, Nancy A. & Zaslavsky, Alan M. & Kessler, Ronald C., 2011. "Childhood socio-economic status and the onset, persistence, and severity of DSM-IV mental disorders in a US national sample," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(7), pages 1088-1096.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Gwyther Rees, 2018. "The Association of Childhood Factors with Children’s Subjective Well-Being and Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties at 11 years old," Child Indicators Research, Springer;The International Society of Child Indicators (ISCI), vol. 11(4), pages 1107-1129, August.
    2. Rikuya Hosokawa & Toshiki Katsura, 2018. "Effect of socioeconomic status on behavioral problems from preschool to early elementary school – A Japanese longitudinal study," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 13(5), pages 1-23, May.
    3. Sarah E. Johnson & David Lawrence & Francisco Perales & Janeen Baxter & Stephen R. Zubrick, 2019. "Poverty, Parental Mental Health and Child/Adolescent Mental Disorders: Findings from a National Australian Survey," Child Indicators Research, Springer;The International Society of Child Indicators (ISCI), vol. 12(3), pages 963-988, June.
    4. Kern, Matthias Robert & Heinz, Andreas & Stevens, Gonneke W.J.M. & Walsh, Sophie D. & Willems, Helmut, 2020. "“What's a normal weight?” – Origin and receiving country influences on weight-status assessment among 1.5 and 2nd generation immigrant adolescents in Europe," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 264(C).
    5. Nielsen, Line & Koushede, Vibeke & Vinther-Larsen, Mathilde & Bendtsen, Pernille & Ersbøll, Annette Kjær & Due, Pernille & Holstein, Bjørn E., 2015. "Does school social capital modify socioeconomic inequality in mental health? A multi-level analysis in Danish schools," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 140(C), pages 35-43.
    6. Kim Dalziel & Max Catchpool & Borja García-Lorenzo & Inigo Gorostiza & Richard Norman & Oliver Rivero-Arias, 2020. "Feasibility, Validity and Differences in Adolescent and Adult EQ-5D-Y Health State Valuation in Australia and Spain: An Application of Best–Worst Scaling," PharmacoEconomics, Springer, vol. 38(5), pages 499-513, May.
    7. Corominas, Mari & González-Carrasco, Mònica & Casas, Ferran, 2021. "Analyzing factors for an optimum play environment through children’s subjective well-being indicators," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 122(C).
    8. Timo-Kolja Pförtner & Bart Clercq & Michela Lenzi & Alessio Vieno & Katharina Rathmann & Irene Moor & Anne Hublet & Michal Molcho & Anton Kunst & Matthias Richter, 2015. "Does the association between different dimension of social capital and adolescent smoking vary by socioeconomic status? a pooled cross-national analysis," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 60(8), pages 901-910, December.
    9. Elgar, Frank J. & De Clercq, Bart & Schnohr, Christina W. & Bird, Phillippa & Pickett, Kate E. & Torsheim, Torbjørn & Hofmann, Felix & Currie, Candace, 2013. "Absolute and relative family affluence and psychosomatic symptoms in adolescents," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 25-31.
    10. Yekaterina Chzhen & Irene Moor & William Pickett & Emilia Toczydlowska & Gonneke Stevens & UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2016. "Family Affluence and Inequality in Adolescent Health and Life Satisfaction: Evidence from the HBSC study 2002-2014," Papers inwopa836, Innocenti Working Papers.
    11. Luis Rajmil & Noemí Robles & Dolors Rodriguez-Arjona & Marta Azuara & Francisco Codina & Hein Raat & Ulrike Ravens-Sieberer, 2014. "Comparison of the Web-Based and Digital Questionnaires of the Spanish and Catalan Versions of the KIDSCREEN-52," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 9(12), pages 1-13, December.
    12. De Clercq, B. & Vyncke, V. & Hublet, A. & Elgar, F.J. & Ravens-Sieberer, U. & Currie, C. & Hooghe, M. & Ieven, A. & Maes, L., 2012. "Social capital and social inequality in adolescents’ health in 601 Flemish communities: A multilevel analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 202-210.
    13. Vander Ploeg, Kerry A. & Maximova, Katerina & McGavock, Jonathan & Davis, Wendy & Veugelers, Paul, 2014. "Do school-based physical activity interventions increase or reduce inequalities in health?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 80-87.
    14. Melisa Bubonya & Deborah A. Cobb-Clark & Mark Wooden, 2017. "Job loss and the mental health of spouses and adolescent children," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 6(1), pages 1-27, December.
    15. Pasqualini, M. & Lanari, D. & Pieroni, L., 2018. "Parents who exit and parents who enter. Family structure transitions, child psychological health, and early drinking," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 214(C), pages 187-196.
    16. Gabriel Fernandez de Grado & Virginie Ehlinger & Emmanuelle Godeau & Catherine Arnaud & Cathy Nabet & Nadia Benkirane-Jessel & Anne-Marie Musset & Damien Offner, 2021. "Changes in tooth brushing frequency and its associated factors from 2006 to 2014 among French adolescents: Results from three repeated cross sectional HBSC studies," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 16(3), pages 1-12, March.
    17. Lawson, David W. & Mace, Ruth, 2010. "Siblings and childhood mental health: Evidence for a later-born advantage," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(12), pages 2061-2069, June.
    18. Wan-Lin Chiang & Tung-liang Chiang, 2019. "Early Poverty and Children’s General Health at 8 Years of Age in the Taiwan Birth Cohort Study," Child Indicators Research, Springer;The International Society of Child Indicators (ISCI), vol. 12(6), pages 2067-2077, December.
    19. Kelly Huegaerts & Bram Spruyt & Christophe Vanroelen, 2018. "Youth Unemployment and Mental Health: The Mediating Role of Embodiment," Societies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(2), pages 1-14, June.
    20. Heidi Carlerby & Eija Viitasara & Anders Knutsson & Katja Gillander Gådin, 2013. "How Bullying Involvement is Associated with the Distribution of Parental Background and With Subjective Health Complaints Among Swedish Boys and Girls," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 111(3), pages 775-783, May.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:90:y:2013:i:c:p:24-31. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Catherine Liu (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.