Childhood social disadvantage and smoking in adulthood: results of a 25-year longitudinal study

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To examine the associations between exposure to socio-economic disadvantage in childhood and smoking in adulthood.


A 25-year longitudinal study of the health, development and adjustment of a birth cohort of 1265 New Zealand children.


Assessments of childhood socio-economic disadvantage, smoking in adulthood and potential mediating pathways, including: parental education, family socio-economic status, family living standards and family income; smoking frequency and nicotine dependence at age 25 years; child IQ, educational achievement by age 18 years, conduct problems ages 14–16 years, parental smoking 0–16 years and peer smoking at 16 years.


Smoking at age 25 was correlated significantly (P < 0.0001) with increasing childhood socio-economic disadvantage. Further, indicators of childhood socio-economic disadvantage were correlated significantly (P < 0.0001) with the intervening variables of childhood intelligence, school achievement, conduct problems and exposure to parental and peer smoking; which in turn were correlated significantly (P < 0.0001) with measures of smoking at age 25. Structural equation modelling suggested that the linkages between the latent factor of childhood disadvantage and later smoking were explained largely by a series of pathways involving cognitive/educational factors, adolescent behavioural adjustment and exposure to parental and peer smoking.


The current study suggested that smoking in adulthood is influenced by childhood socio-economic disadvantage via the mediating pathways of cognitive/educational factors, adolescent behaviour and parental and peer smoking.

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