Child Maltreatment, Family Characteristics, and Educational Attainment: Evidence from Add Health Data

Rationale: Child maltreatment, which includes both child abuse and child neglect, is widely regarded as a serious social and public health problem that affects large numbers of children in the United States. In 2012, U.S. state and local child protective services received an estimated 3.4 million referrals of children being abused or neglected. There is increasing evidence that exposure to child maltreatment can lead to many emotional, behavioral, and physical health problems. However, little is known about whether child maltreatment has a significant influence on the victim’s educational attainment, and whether child maltreatment mediates the effects of family background factors on the victim’s educational outcomes. This study is motivated by the high prevalence of child maltreatment in the United States and our limited knowledge about the long-term consequence of maltreatment on children’s human capital accumulation. Our central question is whether preventing child maltreatment helps reduce the number of high school dropouts. We focus on high school dropout because it poses one of the greatest threats to the nation’s economic growth and competitiveness. About 2,500 American high school students drop out every day. Dropouts are far more likely to spend their lives periodically unemployed, on government assistance, or cycling in and out of the prison system. Dropouts are far more likely to spend their lives periodically unemployed, on government assistance, or cycling in and out of the prison system. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual income of a high school dropout was about $22,000, while a person with a high school diploma averaged $33,000; that’s a difference of $11,000 a year. The economic consequences of leaving high school without a diploma are severe. Objective: The objective of this study is to use a nationally representative longitudinal sample of adolescents to examine the effects of family background factors and three forms of child maltreatment (neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse) on the risk of high school dropout, allowing for the potential endogeneity of experiencing child maltreatment. Methodology: Data describing family background characteristics from Wave I of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) study (1994 – 1995) were matched with retrospective reports of child maltreatment during Wave III (2001 – 2002) of the Add Health study and the exit statuses from high school appearing on Wave III respondents’ transcripts. The study sample included 6,422 participants who were in grades 7 through 10 during Wave I survey and reinterviewed in Wave III survey, and whose official high school transcripts were collected by the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement study, an extension study of the Add Health study. A behavior decision model, which related high school dropout to child maltreatment and family background characteristics, was developed to guide our empirical analyses. A maximum simulated likelihood approach for a multivariate probit model was used to estimate a recursive system of equations for high school dropout, child maltreatment and family background. The estimations under other specifications of the empirical model—propensity score matching estimations, linear probability model specifications with instrumental variables, and models with alternative definitions of child maltreatment—were used to test the robustness of our findings. Results: Controlling for other variables, family size, family structure (two biological parents or not), parental education, and family poverty are all significantly associated with high school dropout. Hyperactivity/impulsive symptoms and low IQ also significantly predict high school dropout. The associations between family background characteristics and child maltreatment vary by type of child maltreatment experienced. Living with both biological parents is significantly associated with the lower risk of maltreatment for all three types of child maltreatment. Family poverty is only significantly associated with childhood neglect, while family size is only significantly associated with childhood physical abuse. Allowing for endogeneity, childhood neglect and physical abuse contributes significantly to the risk of high school dropout, while childhood sexual abuse is not significantly associated with the risk of high school dropout. Experiencing childhood neglect and physical abuse increase the probability of high school dropout by 7% and 6%, respectively. The estimations under other specifications of the empirical model indicate that the results regarding the significant effects of neglect and physical abuse are robust. Conclusions: The findings shed light on how parents’ attitudes and behaviors toward children influence their long-term human capital accumulation outcomes. Preventing childhood neglect and physical abuse in economically disadvantaged and/or non-two biological parent families may help significantly reduce the high school dropout rate.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-04-26

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