Early life Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and development

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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful events experienced in childhood, including childhood maltreatment and abuse and harmful home environments, that influence a multitude of present and future outcomes. The 10 standard ACE measures are psychological, physical or sexual abuse, emotional or physical neglect, parental separation, domestic violence and living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever imprisoned. ACEs are highly prevalent in the UK. In a 2014 UK study, 47% of people reported at least one ACE and 9% of the population had 4+ ACEs1. However, ACEs are more prevalent among children from deprived and lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those whose parents experienced ACEs2. ACEs can have long run negative effects on health, wellbeing, and development. This creates substantial economic costs to individuals, through reduced opportunities and the inability to develop their human capital, and for the overall economy, due to a lower productivity labour force. Additionally, the associated health implications can also reduce labour productivity and significantly increase health care costs3.
This article summarises the biological impact of ACEs, synthesises the existing ACEs literature and highlights the key findings and limitations from a research project studying the effects of ACEs experienced in early life on adolescent cognitive and non-cognitive development in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalFraser of Allander Economic Commentary
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2022


  • adverse childhood experiences
  • Scotland
  • childhood maltreatment


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