This study examined the role of parental emotional well-being and parenting practices as mediators of the association between familial socioeconomic status (SES) and child mental health problems. The sample included 2,043 5th-7th graders (50.7 % female) participating in the second wave of the Bergen Child Study. Children completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, parents reported family economy and education level, emotional well-being (measured with the Everyday Feelings Questionnaire), and the use of negative disciplinary and affirmative parenting practices (measured using the Family Life Questionnaire). Path analyses were conducted to examine the associations between SES and externalizing and internalizing problems. Results supported a model where family economy was associated with externalizing problems through parental emotional well-being and parenting practices, whereas maternal education level was associated with externalizing problems through negative discipline. The direct association between paternal education level and externalizing problems was not mediated by parenting. For internalizing problems, we found both direct associations with family economy and indirect associations with family economy through parental emotional well-being and parenting. The results suggest that parental emotional well-being and parenting practices are two potential mechanisms through which low socioeconomic status is associated with child mental health problems.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Barth, R. P., Landsverk, J., Chamberlain, P., Reid, J. B., Rolls, J. A., Hurlburt, M. S., et al. (2005). Parent-training programs in child welfare services: planning for a more evidence-based approach to serving biological parents. Research on Social Work Practice, 15, 353–371. doi:10.1177/1049731505276321.
Benasich, A. A., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1996). Maternal attitudes and knowledge of child-rearing: associations with family and child outcomes. Child Development, 67, 1186–1205.
Benner, A. D., & Kim, S. Y. (2010). Understanding Chinese American adolescents’ developmental outcomes: insights from the family stress model. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20, 1–12. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2009.00629.x.
Bitensky, S. H. (1997). Spare the rod, embrace our humanity: toward a new legal regime prohibiting corporal punishment of children. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 31, 353–474.
Blair, S., Wenk, D., & Hardesty, C. (1994). Marital quality and paternal involvement: interconnections of men’s spousal and parental roles. Journal of Men’s Studies, 2, 221–237. doi:10.3149/jms.0203.221.
Boyce, W. T., & Ellis, B. J. (2005). Biological sensitivity to context: I. An evolutionary-developmental theory of the origins and functions of stress reactivity. Development and Psychopathology, 17, 271–301. doi:10.1017/S0954579405050145.
Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2002). Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 371–399.
Brown, T. A. (2006). Confirmatory factor analysis for applied research. New York: Guilford press.
Bøe, T., Øverland, S., Lundervold, A. J., & Hysing, M. (2012). Socioeconomic status and children’s mental health: results from the Bergen child study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47, 1557–1566. doi:10.1007/s00127-011-0462-9.
Campbell, S. B., Pierce, E. W., March, C. L., & Ewing, L. J. (1991). Noncompliant behavior, overactivity, and family stress as predictors of negative maternal control with preschool children. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 175–190. doi:10.1017/S0954579400000067.
Castillo, J., Welch, G., & Sarver, C. (2011). Fathering: the relationship between fathers’ residence, fathers’ sociodemographic characteristics, and father involvement. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 15, 1342–1349. doi:10.1007/s10995-010-0684-6.
Cole, D. A., & Maxwell, S. E. (2003). Testing mediational models with longitudinal data: questions and tips in the use of structural equation modeling. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 112, 558–577. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.112.4.558.
Colonnesi, C., Draijer, E. M., Jan, J. M., Stams, G., Van der Bruggen, C. O., Bögels, S. M., et al. (2011). The relation between insecure attachment and child anxiety: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 40, 630–645. doi:10.1080/15374416.2011.581623.
Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H. (1994). Families in troubled times: Adapting to change in in rural America (1st ed.). New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., Elder, G. H., Jr., Lorenz, F. O., Simons, R. L., & Whitbeck, L. B. (1992). A family process model of economic hardship and adjustment of early adolescent boys. Child Development, 63, 526–541.
Conger, R. D., Ge, X., Elder, G. H., Jr., Lorenz, F. O., & Simons, R. L. (1994). Economic stress, coercive family process, and developmental problems of adolescents. Child Development, 65, 541–561.
Conger, R. D., Patterson, G. R., & Ge, X. (1995). It takes two to replicate: a mediational model for the impact of parents’ stress on adolescent adjustment. Child Development, 66, 80–97.
Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., & Martin, M. J. (2010). Socioeconomic status, family processes, and individual development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 685–704. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00725.x.
Costello, E. J., Compton, S. N., Keeler, G., & Angold, A. (2003). Relationships between poverty and psychopathology: a natural experiment. Journal of the American Medical Association, 290, 2023–2029. doi:10.1001/jama.290.15.2023.
Dearing, E., McCartney, K., & Taylor, B. A. (2006). Within-child associations between family income and externalizing and internalizing problems. Developmental Psychology, 42, 237–252. doi:10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.206.
Downey, G., & Coyne, J. C. (1990). Children of depressed parents: an integrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 50–76. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.108.1.50.
Duncan, G. J., & Magnuson, K. A. (2003). Off with hollingshead: Socioeconomic resources, parenting, and child development. In M. H. Bornstein & R. H. Bradley (Eds.), Socioeconomic status, parenting, and child development. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Elder, G. H., Jr., & Caspi, A. (1988). Economic-stress in lives—developmental perspectives. Journal of Social Issues, 44, 25–45.
Elder, G. H., Jr., Nguyen, T. V., & Caspi, A. (1985). Linking family hardship to children’s lives. Child Development, 56, 361–375.
Evans, G. W. (2003). A multimethodological analysis of cumulative risk and allostatic load among rural children. Developmental Psychology, 39, 924–933.
Feng, X., Shaw, D. S., & Silk, J. S. (2008). Developmental trajectories of anxiety symptoms among boys across early and middle childhood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117, 32–47. doi:10.1037/0021-843x.117.1.32.
Ford, T., Goodman, R., & Meltzer, H. (2003). The British child and adolescent mental health survey 1999: the prevalence of dsm-iv disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 1203–1211.
Ge, X. J., Conger, R. D., Lorenz, F. O., & Simons, R. L. (1994). Parents stressful life events and adolescent depressed mood. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 28–44.
Gershoff, E. T., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Lansford, J. E., Chang, L., Zelli, A., Deater-Deckard, K., et al. (2010). Parent discipline practices in an international sample: associations with child behaviors and moderation by perceived normativeness. Child Development, 81, 487–502. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01409.x.
Goodman, R. (1997). The strengths and difficulties questionnaire: a research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 38, 581–586. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1997.tb01545.x.
Goodman, R. (1999). The extended version of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire as a guide to child psychiatric caseness and consequent burden. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 40, 791–799.
Goodman, S., & Gotlib, I. H. (1999). Risk for psychopathology in the children of depressed mothers: a developmental model for understanding mechanisms of transmission. Psychological Review, 106, 458–490.
Goodman, R., Ford, T., Richards, H., Gatward, R., & Meltzer, H. (2000a). The development and well-being assessment: description and initial validation of an integrated assessment of child and adolescent psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 41, 645–655.
Goodman, R., Ford, T., Simmons, H., Gatward, R., & Meltzer, H. (2000b). Using the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (sdq) to screen for child psychiatric disorders in a community sample. British Journal of Psychiatry, 177, 534–539. doi:10.1192/bjp.177.6.534.
Goodman, A., Lamping, D. L., & Ploubidis, G. B. (2010). When to use broader internalising and externalising subscales instead of the hypothesised five subscales on the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (sdq): data from British parents, teachers and children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 1179–1191. doi:10.1007/s10802-010-9434-x.
Heiervang, E., & Goodman, R. (2011). Advantages and limitations of web-based surveys: evidence from a child mental health survey. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 46, 69–76. doi:10.1007/s00127-009-0171-9.
Heiervang, E., Stormark, K. M., Lundervold, A. J., Heimann, M., Goodman, R., Posserud, M.-B., et al. (2007). Psychiatric disorders in norwegian 8- to 10-year-olds: an epidemiological survey of prevalence, risk factors, and service use. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 438–447. doi:10.1097/chi.0b013e31803062bf.
Hoff, E., Laursen, B., & Tardif, T. (2002). Socioeconomic status and parenting. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Biology and ecology of parenting (2nd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 231–252). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Hu, L. T., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling-A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6, 1–55. doi:10.1080/10705519909540118.
Huang, K. Y., Caughy, M. O. B., Genevro, J. L., & Miller, T. L. (2005). Maternal knowledge of child development and quality of parenting among white, African-American and Hispanic mothers. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 149–170. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2004.12.001.
Huisman, M., Araya, R., Lawlor, D. A., Ormel, J., Verhulst, F. C., & Oldehinkel, A. J. (2010). Cognitive ability, parental socioeconomic position and internalising and externalising problems in adolescence: findings from two european cohort studies. European Journal of Epidemiology, 25, 569–580. doi:10.1007/s10654-010-9473-1.
Jöreskog, K. G. (1993). Testing structural equation models. In K. A. Bollen & J. S. Long (Eds.), Testing structural equation models (pp. 294–316). Newbury Park: Sage.
Keiley, M. K., Howe, T. R., Dodge, K. A., Bates, J. E., & Pettit, G. S. (2001). The timing of child physical maltreatment: a cross-domain growth analysis of impact on adolescent externalizing and internalizing problems. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 891–912.
Kim, K. J., Conger, R. D., Lorenz, F. O., & Elder, G. H., Jr. (2001). Parent-adolescent reciprocity in negative affect and its relation to early adult social development. Developmental Psychology, 37, 775–790.
Korbin, J. E. (2003). Children, childhoods, and violence. Annual Review of Anthropology, 32, 431–446. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.32.061002.093345.
Lansford, J. E., Chang, L., Dodge, K. A., Malone, P. S., Oburu, P., Palmerus, K., et al. (2005). Physical discipline and children’s adjustment: cultural normativeness as a moderator. Child Development, 76, 1234–1246. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2005.00847.x.
Last, A., Miles, R., Wills, L., Brownhill, L., & Ford, T. (2012). Reliability and sensitivity to change of the family life questionnaire in a clinical population. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 17, 121–125. doi:10.1111/j.1475-3588.2011.00621.x.
Leinonen, J. A., Solantaus, T. S., & Punamaki, R. L. (2002). The specific mediating paths between economic hardship and the quality of parenting. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26, 423–435. doi:10.1080/01650250143000364.
Lempers, J. D., Clark-Lempers, D., & Simons, R. L. (1989). Economic hardship, parenting, and distress in adolescence. Child Development, 60, 25–39.
Lundberg, I., Damström, T. K., Hällsträm, T., & Forsell, Y. (2005). Determinants of non-participation, and the effects of non-participation on potential cause–effect relationships, in the part study on mental disorders. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 40, 475–483. doi:10.1007/s00127-005-0911-4.
Ma, J., Han, Y., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Delva, J., & Castillo, M. (2012). Corporal punishment and youth externalizing behavior in santiago, chile. Child Abuse & Neglect, 36, 481–490. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2012.03.006.
MacKinnon, D. P., Fairchild, A. J., & Fritz, M. S. (2007). Mediation analysis. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 593–614. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085542.
Maxwell, S. E., & Cole, D. A. (2007). Bias in cross-sectional analyses of longitudinal mediation. Psychological Methods, 12, 23–44. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.12.1.23.
Maxwell, S. E., Cole, D. A., & Mitchell, M. A. (2011). Bias in cross-sectional analyses of longitudinal mediation: partial and complete mediation under an autoregressive model. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 46, 816–841. doi:10.1080/00273171.2011.606716.
Mcleod, J. D., & Shanahan, M. J. (1996). Trajectories of poverty and children’s mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37, 207–220.
Merikangas, K. R., He, J.-P., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., et al. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in u.S. Adolescents: results from the national comorbidity survey replication–adolescent supplement (ncs-a). Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49, 980–989.
Mian, N., Wainwright, L., Briggs-Gowan, M., & Carter, A. (2011). An ecological risk model for early childhood anxiety: the importance of early child symptoms and temperament. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39, 501–512. doi:10.1007/s10802-010-9476-0.
Mistry, R. S., Vandewater, E. A., Huston, A. C., & McLoyd, V. C. (2002). Economic well-being and children’s social adjustment: the role of family process in an ethnically diverse low-income sample. Child Development, 73, 935–951.
Mogstad, M., Langørgen, A., & Aaberge, R. (2007). Region-specific versus country-specific poverty lines in analysis of poverty. Journal of Economic Inequality, 5, 115–122. doi:10.1007/s10888-006-9024-x.
Morawska, A., Winter, L., & Sanders, M. R. (2009). Parenting knowledge and its role in the prediction of dysfunctional parenting and disruptive child behaviour. Child: Care, Health and Development, 35, 217–226. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2008.00929.x.
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2010). Mplus user’s guide. (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.
Parke, R. D., Coltrane, S., Duffy, S., Buriel, R., Dennis, J., Powers, J., et al. (2004). Economic stress, parenting, and child adjustment in Mexican American and European American families. Child Development, 75, 1632–1656. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00807.x.
Patterson, G. R., & Stouthamer-Loeber, M. (1984). The correlation of family management practices and delinquency. Child Development, 55, 1299–1307.
Pluess, M., & Belsky, J. (2010a). Children’s differential susceptibility to effects of parenting. Family Science, 1, 14–25. doi:10.1080/19424620903388554.
Pluess, M., & Belsky, J. (2010b). Differential susceptibility to parenting and quality child care. Developmental Psychology, 46, 379–390. doi:10.1037/a0015203.
Poulton, R., Caspi, A., Milne, B. J., Thomson, W. M., Taylor, A., Sears, M. R., et al. (2002). Association between children’s experience of socioeconomic disadvantage and adult health: a life-course study. The Lancet, 360, 1640–1645.
Ramchandani, P., & Psychogiou, L. (2009). Paternal psychiatric disorders and children’s psychosocial development. The Lancet, 374, 646–653. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(09)60238-5.
Reiss, F. (2013). Socioeconomic inequalities and mental health problems in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Social Science & Medicine, 90, 24–31. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.04.026.
Salkind, N. J., & Haskins, R. (1982). Negative income-tax - the impact on children from low-income families. Journal of Family Issues, 3, 165–180.
Shrout, P. E. (2011). Commentary: mediation analysis, causal process, and cross-sectional data. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 46, 852–860. doi:10.1080/00273171.2011.606718.
Simons, R. L., Whitbeck, L. B., Conger, R. D., & Wu, C. I. (1991). Intergenerational transmission of harsh parenting. Developmental Psychology, 27, 159–171.
Skinner, M. L., Elder, G. H., & Conger, R. D. (1992). Linking economic hardship to adolescent aggression. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 21, 259–276.
Solantaus, T., Leinonen, J., & Punamäki, R.-L. (2004). Children’s Mental health in times of economic recession: replication and extension of the family economic stress model in finland. Developmental Psychology, 40, 412–429. doi:10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.112.
Stang, A. (2003). Nonresponse research-an underdeveloped field in epidemiology. European Journal of Epidemiology, 18, 929–931.
Starfield, B., Riley, A. W., Witt, W. P., & Robertson, J. (2002a). Social class gradients in health during adolescence. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 56, 354–361.
Starfield, B., Robertson, J., & Riley, A. W. (2002b). Social class gradients and health in childhood. Ambulatory Pediatrics, 2, 238–246.
StataCorp. (2011). Stata/ic (version 12.1). Texas: StataCorp LP.
Statistics Norway. (2009). Immigration and immigrants 2008 statistical analyses (pp. 104–180). Olso: Statistics Norway.
Stormark, K. M., Heiervang, E., Heimann, M., Lundervold, A. J., & Gillberg, C. (2008). Predicting nonresponse bias from teacher ratings of mental health problems in primary school children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 3, 411–419. doi:10.1007/s10802-007-9187-3.
Thomson, E., Hanson, T. L., & McLanahan, S. S. (1994). Family structure and child well-being: economic resources vs. parental behaviors. Social Forces, 73, 221–242. doi:10.1093/sf/73.1.221.
Uher, R., & Goodman, R. (2010). The everyday feeling questionnaire: the structure and validation of a measure of general psychological well-being and distress. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 45, 413–423. doi:10.1007/s00127-009-0074-9.
Velez, C. N., Johnson, J., & Cohen, P. (1989). A longitudinal analysis of selected risk factors for childhood psychopathology. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 861–864. doi:10.1097/00004583-198911000-00009.
Volling, B. L., & Belsky, J. (1991). Multiple determinants of father involvement during infancy in dual-earner and single-earner families. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 461–474.
Wadsworth, M. E., & Achenbach, T. M. (2005). Explaining the link between low socioeconomic status and psychopathology: testing two mechanisms of the social causation hypothesis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 1146–1153. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.73.6.1146.
Waylen, A., & Stewart-Brown, S. (2010). Factors influencing parenting in early childhood: a prospective longitudinal study focusing on change. Child: Care, Health and Development, 36, 198–207. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2009.01037.x.
Wolke, D., Waylen, A., Samara, M., Steer, C., Goodman, R., Ford, T., et al. (2009). Selective drop-out in longitudinal studies and non-biased prediction of behaviour disorders. British Journal of Psychiatry, 195, 249–256. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.108.053751.
Wyatt Kaminski, J., Valle, L., Filene, J., & Boyle, C. (2008). A meta-analytic review of components associated with parent training program effectiveness. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 567–589. doi:10.1007/s10802-007-9201-9.
We are grateful to the children and parents participating in the study. The authors are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments and suggestions.
About this article
Cite this article
Bøe, T., Sivertsen, B., Heiervang, E. et al. Socioeconomic Status and Child Mental Health: The Role of Parental Emotional Well-Being and Parenting Practices. J Abnorm Child Psychol 42, 705–715 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-013-9818-9
- Bergen child study
- Socioeconomic status
- Internalizing and externalizing problems
- Family process