New Research From Penn Medicine Reveals Mothers of Kids With Autism Earn Significantly Less

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Media Contact:Jessica Mikulski | jessica.mikulski@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-349-8369March 19, 2012

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a lifelong set of developmental disorders that often demand significant resources of time and money from families. New research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Center for Autism Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) now reveals that a wide range of negative parental employment and earnings outcomes are associated with childhood ASD, and specifically have a major impact on a mother’s ability to contribute to the overall income of the family. The new research is published online-first in Pediatrics.

"Our results suggest a significant economic burden for families of children with ASD, especially for mothers," said Zuleyha Cidav, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Mental Health Policy & Services Research at Penn and lead author of the study. "Mothers are often the primary caregiver and decision maker, and therefore have to devote considerable personal resources to obtaining health care services for their children; it is not surprising that, because of these additional responsibilities, these women are less likely to work, work fewer hours per week, and earn substantially less than mothers of children with no health limitation."

In the study, researchers tracked employment outcomes of parents of children with ASD in order to estimate the average annual loss of parental earnings associated with raising a child with autism in the United States. They broke their sample into three groups: families with children with diagnosed ASD; families with children who did not have diagnosed ASD, but had another health limitation; and families with children with no reported ASD or other health limitations.

On average, mothers of children with ASD earned 35 percent less than the mothers of children with another health limitation, and 56 percent less than mothers of children with no health limitation. They are 6 percent less likely to be employed, and work an average of 7 hours less per week than mothers of children with no health limitation. Fathers’ employment was not impacted. On average, family earnings of children with ASD are 21 percent less than those of children with another health limitation and 28 percent less than those of children with no health limitation.

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