The Unintended Consequences of Medical Adaptation to Academic Pressure: ADHD Diagnoses, Socioeconomic Status, and Children's Later Well-being

Jayanti Owens , Brown University

With a 41% rise in childhood diagnoses of ADHD over the past decade alone, diagnoses have increased among children from higher socioeconomic status (SES) families with lower pre-diagnosis behavioral problems in response to mounting academic pressure. Although it is implicitly assumed that diagnosis is beneficial for these children because it opens legitimate channels to medications that effectively control even mild behavior problems, diagnosis can also bring stigma. Using the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort of 1998, matching techniques are used to estimate the net marginal effects of diagnosis, revealing that diagnosed higher SES (but not lower SES) children with lower pre-diagnosis behavior problems exhibit significantly worse teacher-rated school behaviors and child-rated self-competence following diagnosis relative to otherwise comparable undiagnosed matches. Higher SES parents do not report lower educational expectations for diagnosed children. Medical adaptation to academic pressure can, under certain conditions, have unintended negative consequences for advantaged children.

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 Presented in Session 2. Children & Youth