University of Otago researchers have put hard numbers to the
adage that success breeds success - and failure breeds
A long-term study of 1265 children born in Christchurch in
1977 has found those whose families were poor in their first
10 years of life earned about $20,000 a year less by the age
of 30 than those who grew up in rich families.
Those from poor families were more likely to leave school
without qualifications, have babies before they were 20,
commit crimes, go on welfare and have addiction and other
mental health problems in adulthood.
Most of these effects were explained by factors which tended
to vary in line with family incomes, such as parents'
education, addictions, criminality and marital conflict and
breakup, and the children's own intelligence.
But study director Prof David Fergusson said the effects of
childhood income on later educational and career achievement
persisted even after allowing for all other factors.
"So, in a sense success or failure drives educational and
economic success or failure, but the things that drive
behavioural outcomes are not so much income and are more
familial and personal," he said.
"It could be that competent, bright families transmit their
skills to their children and also earn higher incomes. It
could also be that being bred in a high-income family
provides children with role models and resources for both
educational achievement and career success."
Deputy prime minister Bill English and Maori Party co-leader
Tariana Turia are setting up a ministerial committee on
poverty under the Maori Party's post-election agreement with
the National Party.
The study results are reported in a newsletter published by
Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, who has said
attacking child poverty should be the first of seven goals in
an "action plan" arising out of a Government paper on
The newsletter also reports a Social Development Ministry
finding that in 2010, 26% of children lived in "poor"
families earning under 60% of the net median income after
housing costs - down from a peak of 30% of children in 2001,
but still roughly double the proportion in poverty during the
1980s, when the children in the Christchurch study were
Prof Fergusson said children being born in poor families
today might face even worse outcomes than their parents born
in the 1970s and '80s because of the greater disparity in
The study asked detailed questions about people's lives which
also enabled the researchers to diagnose whether they had
depression, anxiety disorder, drug or alcohol addictions or
On average, those raised in poor families had slightly more
of these disorders than those from rich families.
Prof Fergusson said the study showed that income inequality
and behavioural issues, such as parents' addictions, both had
to be tackled to fix social problems.
A spokesman for Mr English said the poverty committee would
focus on "providing opportunity through things like education
and jobs and ensuring we are getting the best results from
the hundreds of millions of dollars already being spent on
social service delivery".