The power of the future: Intergenerational income mobility and child maltreatment in the United States

Lindsey Rose Bullinger, Kerri M. Raissian, William Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Recent research has shown that the likelihood of children experiencing intergenerational, upward income mobility depends on the community in which they are raised. Whether parents consider their children's economic chances in their parenting decisions, however, is not well understood. Objective: To examine the relationship between county-level income mobility–distinct from income inequality and poverty–and child maltreatment. Participants and setting: Administrative data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System: Child File for 2406 counties were merged with measures of intergenerational income mobility from Chetty et al. (2014a), including the probability that a child born in the bottom quintile of the national income distribution reaches the top quintile by age thirty. Methods: Weighted least squares analyses were used to empirically estimate the relationship between intergenerational income mobility and child maltreatment report rates. Maltreatment reports were also divided into subgroups by age and metropolitan status. Results: Counties where children have a greater chance of moving up the income ladder have lower child maltreatment report rates, independent from income inequality and poverty rates. This relationship is consistent across all child ages (0–17). The relationship between upward income mobility and substantiated child maltreatment is also negatively correlated among non-metropolitan counties. Conclusions: Children experience a lower risk for maltreatment if they are more likely to move up the income ladder in adulthood. Macroeconomic factors and policies that reduce income inequality and enhance economic mobility are likely to prevent child maltreatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105175
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Child protective services
  • Child welfare
  • Economic mobility
  • Income inequality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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