Background: Parent child relationships and parenting processes are emerging as potential life course determinants of health. Parenting is socially patterned and could be one of the factors responsible for the negative effects of social inequalities on health, both in childhood and adulthood. This study tests the hypothesis that some of the effect of socioeconomic risk on health in mid childhood is transmitted via early parenting. Methods: Prospective cohort study in 10 USA communities involving 1041 mother/child pairs, selected at birth at random with conditional sampling. Exposures: income, maternal education, maternal age, lone parenthood, ethnic status and objective assessments of mother child interaction in the first 4 years of life covering warmth, negativity and positive control. Outcomes: mother's report of child's health in general at 6 years. Modelling: multiple regression analyses with statistical testing of mediational processes. Results: All five indicators of socioeconomic status (SES) were correlated with all three measures of parenting, such that low SES was associated with poor parenting. Among the measures of parenting maternal warmth was independently predictive of future health, and among the socioeconomic variables maternal education, partner presence and 'other ethnic group' proved predictive. Measures of parenting significantly mediated the impact of measures of SES on child health. Conclusions: Parenting mediates some, but not all of the detectable effects of socioeconomic risk on health in childhood. As part of a package of measures that address other determinants, interventions to support parenting are likely to make a useful contribution to reducing childhood inequalities in health.
- Childhood health
- Parent-child relations
- Social inequalities
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health