Childhood poverty impacts wellbeing in middle-age, study shows

Posted on 28th November 2022

Experiencing poverty in childhood has a particular impact on wellbeing in adulthood around middle-age, according to new research.

A new study conducted by the Smartline Project at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health has concluded that a person’s financial circumstances in childhood were significantly linked to their sense of wellbeing once they reached the age bracket of 41-65.

For adults aged 18-40, only their adulthood financial circumstances were linked to wellbeing, while for adults aged over 65., neither childhood nor adulthood finances were important to their wellbeing.

The findings, published in Applied Research in Quality of Life, emerge from more than 3,000 responses to the Smartline National Survey, made up of a representative sample of UK adults.

Lead author Professor Karyn Morrissey said: “Our research adds to the evidence that childhood is a critical period for wellbeing in middle age. This indicates that childhood circumstances can come back to “haunt” us in middle-age, which is often a key time in terms of parenting and career progression. We need to address childhood poverty as a matter of urgency, to help benefit the cycle of mental health from one generation to the next. The impact of financial hardship in childhood on wellbeing in adulthood found in this study is particularly concerning as levels of child poverty increase in the UK.”

The study is entitled ‘Estimating the Impact of Relative Financial Circumstances in Childhood on Adult Mental Wellbeing: a Mediation Analysis’, and is published in Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Cornwall Council, Smartline is a collaborative research and innovation project led by the University of Exeter in partnership with Coastline Housing, Cornwall Council, South West Academic Health Science Network (SWAHSN) and Volunteer Cornwall.

Date: 28 November 2022

Related content


Exeter academics lead WHO report on benefits of urban green and blue spaces to boost health

A growing body of evidence demonstrates the potential of urban green and blue spaces to generate better health and well-being. Better quality spaces are linked to better human health outcomes,…


Environment and health pioneer elected as Fellow of Royal Society

A pioneer of research investigating the complex links between the environment and human health has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Professor Michael Depledge CBE, who set…


The Eden Project shares insights from ECEHH research with global audiences

Research by the University of Exeter which shows how natural sounds can boost people’s wellbeing has formed part The Eden Project’s new ambitious digital campaign aimed at inspiring audiences worldwide…