Exposure to Childhood Poverty and Mental Health Symptomatology in Adolescence: A Role of Coping Strategies

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Childhood poverty is associated with stress dysregulation which contributes to psychological illness in later ages. The adverse effects of childhood poverty on stress regulation may be mediated in part by the use of disengaging strategies to cope with stress. However, the relations among childhood poverty, coping strategies and psychopathology throughout childhood to adolescence have not been explored. This prospective, longitudinal study included 185 low- and middle-income adolescents at age 17. Chronic exposure to poverty from birth to early adolescence (age 13) was prospectively associated with increases in the use of disengagement versus engagement coping four years later. Increased use of disengagement coping between the ages of 13 and 17 explained the indirect link between poverty exposure since birth and both externalizing and internalizing symptoms at age 17. The findings provide evidence for a coping pathway underlying the link between prolonged exposure to childhood poverty and mental health sequelae.

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