Timing and duration of social assistance receipt during childhood on early adult outcomes


  • Tiina Ristikari National Institute of Health and Welfare
  • Marko Merikukka National Institute of Health and Welfare, Finland
  • Mia Kristiina Hakovirta Department of Social Research University of Turku Finland




social assistance, early adult outcome, birth cohort, registers study


The experience of economic disadvantage during childhood is a major predictor of a variety of negative outcomes during early adulthood. This study provides evidence on the significance of timing of social assistance receipt during childhood on children’s later adjustment problems. The study uses data from the 1987 Finnish Birth Cohort (FBC), which covered all children born in Finland in 1987 (N=59476) and followed them until the age of 25. The data were gathered from Finnish registers that cover health and sociodemographic data for cohort members and their parents. Altogether 11,062 female (38.1%) and 11,537 male (37.9%) cohort members had parents who had received social assistance. Social assistance receipt during childhood increased the risk for all measured adjustment problems: early school leaving (OR 2.37), conviction (OR 1.87), teenage pregnancy (OR 1.89) and mental disorders (OR 1.68) even when adjusting for several social background variables. Economic disadvantage during early childhood (0–2 years) was found to associate with highest risk; all measured adjustment problems compared to exposure to poverty later in childhood. The study concludes that early childhood is a period in which children acquire cognitive and social competencies that form the basis for future wellbeing. Our analysis, based on a total nation-wide birth cohort, indicates that economic disadvantage in early childhood poses the most significant risk for later adjustment problems.