To estimate associations between suspected or diagnosed neurodevelopmental or behavioural problems in 7-year-old children and maternal unemployment at child age 7 and 10, in a Portuguese birth cohort.
We evaluated 5754 mothers and their children of the population-based birth cohort Generation XXI in Porto, Portugal. Data on suspected and diagnosed child neurodevelopmental and behavioural problems (exposures)—learning, attention and language problems, externalising behaviours, developmental delay, autism spectrum disorders, and other neurodevelopmental problems—were retrieved at 7 years of age by interviewing caregivers. Maternal employment status (outcome) was collected at the 7- and 10-year follow-up waves. Robust Poisson regression models were used to estimate associations.
After adjustment for maternal and household characteristics, women were more likely to be unemployed at child age 10 if the child had, up to age 7, any of the following suspected problems: an autism spectrum disorder (PR = 1.73; 95% CI 1.07, 2.79), developmental delay (PR = 1.58; 95% CI 1.20, 2.06), externalising behaviours (PR = 1.29; 95% CI 1.11, 1.50) or learning problems (PR = 1.26; 95% CI 1.07, 1.48). When the exposure was restricted to clinically diagnosed disorders, the magnitude of associations remained similar but estimates were less precise. Associations with unemployment were stronger at child age 10 (prospective analyses), than at child age 7 (cross-sectional).
Having a child with learning, developmental or behavioural problems, or an autism spectrum disorder up to age 7 was associated with maternal unemployment three years later, even in a less affluent European economy where the dual-earner family structure is often necessary to make ends meet.