Age of exposure to household dysfunction could be linked to future adverse outcomes


A report examines whether the age a child is exposed to dysfunctional behavior in their homes was linked to future adverse outcomes.

Previous research has shown that children who have been exposed to negative domestic experiences can have less than optimal outcomes. A report in JAMA Network Open looks at whether the age that a child is exposed to negative behavior or action in childhood, such as dysfunction in the household, was linked to subsequent adverse outcomes.1

The researchers used population data from administrative sources that included all Danish individuals who were born between 1987 and 1998 who were also living in Denmark at 19 years of age. They looked at exposure to 6 household dysfunction items, which included child’s foster care experiences, death, mental disorders, divorce, incarceration, and parents’ unemployment, from birth to when the child was 17 years of age. The age groups were described as 0 to 2 years (early childhood), 3 to 5 years (preschool), 6 to 12 years (mid-childhood), and 13 to 17 years (early adolescence).

A total of 605,344 people were followed from birth to 19 years of age. Within this sample, 278,115 of the people had been exposed to at least 1 of the 6 household dysfunction items from birth to 17 years of age. The most common household dysfunction item was parental unemployment (15.5% observed in mid-childhood) and exposure to a household dysfunction item was most prevalent at 1 year of age. The chance of experiencing adverse outcomes was found to vary significantly in association with the age at time of exposure. Furthermore, the researchers found that exposure in early adolescence was more strongly tied to adverse outcomes than being exposed during early childhood (increased risk of 5.8 percentage points [β = 0.058; 95% CI, 0.052-0.063; P < .001] vs 1.0 [β = 0.010; 95% CI, 0.004-0.015; P = .001]).

The investigators concluded that being exposed to household dysfunction in early adolescence was more strongly linked to later adverse outcomes than exposure to dysfunction at any other point in childhood. They urged policy makers to use this information to inform priorities for directing resources for children and adolescents who are disadvantaged.


1. Andersen S. Association of youth age at exposure to household dysfunction with outcomes in early adulthood. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(1):e2032769. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.32769

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