Parental gender attitudes and children's mental health: Evidence from the UK household longitudinal study

Edith Aguirre*, Michaela Benzeval, Aja Murray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Gender role attitudes have been found to be associated with the mental health of adults and adolescents, but little is known about whether parents' gender attitudes are associated with their children's mental health. Using data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), a large-population representative sample, we examine the links between parental gender role attitudes and child mental health outcomes as measured by the total and five components of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ). We construct structural equation models, separately for mothers and for fathers and for children aged 5 and 8, and adjust for key sociodemographic variables. We find that children aged 5 years exhibit fewer emotional and peer relationship problems and are more prosocial when their mothers have more egalitarian (compared to traditionalist) gender role attitudes. We also find that children are more prosocial at age 8 when their mothers have more egalitarian gender role attitudes. No statistically significant mediation effect is observed via maternal parenting behaviour. Fathers' more egalitarian gender role attitudes were associated with higher hyperactivity at age 5 and more prosocial behaviour at age 8. Further, engaging in less negative parenting behaviour completely mediates the association of fathers' more egalitarian gender attitudes with children's mental health across the majority of the SDQ scales. This suggests that parental gender attitudes may be a possible target for the prevention of mental health difficulties among children; however, future research will be required to examine the extent to which the associations we identified reflect causality.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116632
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date1 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • United Kingdom
  • children
  • mental health
  • gender attitudes
  • parental attitudes
  • longitudinal study
  • parenting behaviour
  • intervention


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