Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Health Issues

Social & Economic Factors Associated with Developmental Disabilities

Children who grow up in environmental circumstances of social and economic disadvantage are more likely to have developmental disabilities.

Maternal Risk Factors:

  • Povert
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Mental illness
  • Substance abus
  • Living in communities where environmental hazards are plentiful and resources are limited

Prenatal & Perinatal Risk Factors:

  • Preterm birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Central nervous system abnormalities
  • Prolonged hospitalizations that can drain family resources and interfere with parent-infant bonding

Children in Poverty: Complex and Far-Reaching Risk Factors 

For many children, the environmental risks are compounded during their early years. Poverty remains one of the most complex and far-reaching risk factors, because it affects so many aspects of the life of a child.

In 2006, approximately 1 in 5 US children younger than 6 years and 16% of children ages 6 to 17 years lived in poverty. The rate for children of all ages living in single female-headed families was 42%. During that same year, approximately 17% of children (12.6 million) lived in households with food insecurity. Children who were impoverished were also more likely to have a blood lead level of 10 μg/dL or greater. Children living in poverty are 1.7 times more likely to be born at a low birth weight.

Cycle of Disadvantage: Difficult to Escape

Too often, children and their families are trapped in a cycle of disadvantage and disability that is difficult to escape unless interrupted by outside social forces or the extraordinary efforts of individuals and families.

Additional Information

Last Updated
Pediatric Environmental Health, 3rd Edition (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Follow Us