Adolescent Mental Health and Family Economic Hardships: The Roles of Adverse Childhood Experiences and Family Conflict

Sheila Barnhart, Antonio R. Garcia, Nicole R. Karcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Rising and economically disproportionate rates of adverse mental health outcomes among children and youth warrant research investigating the complex pathways stemming from socioeconomic status. While adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been considered a possible mechanism linking socioeconomic status (SES) and child and youth psychopathology in previous studies, less is understood about how family environments might condition these pathways. Using data from a longitudinal, multiple-wave study, the present study addresses this gap by examining the direct relationships between family economic status and youth internalizing and externalizing symptoms, if ACEs mediate these relationships, and if conflictual family environments moderate these direct and indirect relationships. The data were obtained from 5510 youth participants [mean age at baseline = 9.52 (SD = 0.50), 47.7% female, 2.1% Asian, 10.3% Black, 17.6% Hispanic, 9.8% Multiracial/Multiethnic, 60.2% White] and their caretakers from the baseline, 1-year, and 2-year follow up waves. Conditional process analysis assessed the direct, indirect, and moderated relationships in separate, equivalent models based on youth- versus caregiver-raters of ACEs and youth psychopathology to capture potential differences based on the rater. The results of both the youth- and caregiver-rated models indicated that lower family economic status directly predicted higher levels of externalizing symptoms, and ACEs indirectly accounted for higher levels of internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Additionally, family conflict moderated some, but not all, of these relationships. The study’s findings highlight that lower family economic status and ACEs, directly and indirectly, contribute to early adolescent psychopathology, and conflictual family environments can further intensify these relationships. Implementing empirically supported policies and interventions that target ACEs and family environments may disrupt deleterious pathways between SES and youth psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2294-2311
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Child and adolescent mental health
  • Economic adversity
  • Family conflict


Dive into the research topics of 'Adolescent Mental Health and Family Economic Hardships: The Roles of Adverse Childhood Experiences and Family Conflict'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this