Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 7, pp 2193–2205 | Cite as

Urbanicity is Associated with Behavioral and Emotional Problems in Elementary School-Aged Children

  • Brittany E. Evans
  • J. Marieke Buil
  • William J. Burk
  • Antonius H. N. Cillessen
  • Pol A. C. van Lier
Original Paper


Adults are 38% more likely to suffer from a psychiatric disorder when they live in an urban compared to a rural area. Urban upbringing may be particularly important. The aim of the present study was to examine whether urbanicity was independently associated with mental health in elementary school-aged children. Specifically, we investigated whether living in a more urban area was associated with exhibiting more behavioral and emotional problems, and whether this remained while controlling for other major risk factors for mental health problems in children. Data came from a Dutch general population study of children (n = 895). Information from four waves was used, in which children were aged approximately 8, 9, 11, and 12 years old. We used mixed effects models to assess the association between urbanicity and the outcomes of behavioral problems and emotional problems separately, while controlling for other major risk factors. The analyses showed that children who lived in more urban areas were significantly more likely to exhibit behavioral (p < .001) and emotional (p < .001) problems. This effect remained when controlling for neighborhood socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, family socioeconomic status, parental symptoms of psychopathology, parenting stress, and parenting practices (behavioral: p = .02, emotional: p = .009). In line with research in adults, urbanicity seems to be independently associated with behavioral and emotional problems in children. A possible underlying mechanism is that the city is a stressful environment for children to grow up in, which contributes to an increased risk for mental health problems.


Urbanicity Children Mental health Behavioral problems Emotional problems 



We would like to thank all participants of the Spelregels study, their parents and teachers. This study was financially supported by the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development Grants #26200002 and #120620029.

Author Contributions

B.E.: designed the research questions for the current study, performed the data analyses and wrote the paper. J.B.: assisted with the data analyses, collaborated with the writing of the methods and results and collaborated with the editing of the final manuscript. W.B.: collaborated with the design of the research questions, assisted with the data analyses and collaborated with the editing of the final manuscript. A.C.: collaborated with the writing and editing of the final manuscript. P.L.: acquired funding for the larger study of which the current study was a part, designed the larger study, collaborated with the design of the current research questions and collaborated with the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

The parents of all children included in the study gave informed consent at the beginning of their child’s participation in the study. For each subsequent data collection wave, parents were informed of the data collection plans and were given the opportunity to revoke the inclusion of their child or themselves in the study.

Supplementary material

10826_2018_1062_MOESM1_ESM.tif (78 kb)
supplementary Figure(TIF 78 kb)
10826_2018_1062_MOESM2_ESM.docx (16 kb)
supplementary Table(DOCX 15 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Radboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.VU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Karlstad UniversityKarlstadSweden
  4. 4.Erasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

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