Original Paper

Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 47, Issue 11, pp 1707-1715

First online:

The effects of parent–child relationships on later life mental health status in two national birth cohorts

  • Z. MorganAffiliated withDepartment of Health Sciences, University of Leicester
  • , T. BrughaAffiliated withDepartment of Health Sciences, University of Leicester Email author 
  • , T. FryersAffiliated withDepartment of Health Sciences, University of Leicester
  • , S. Stewart-BrownAffiliated withHealth Sciences Research Institute, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick

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Abusive and neglectful parenting is an established determinant of adult mental illness, but longitudinal studies of the impact of less severe problems with parenting have yielded inconsistent findings. In the face of growing interest in mental health promotion, it is important to establish the impact of this potentially remediable risk factor.


Participants: 8,405 participants in the 1958 UK birth cohort study, and 5,058 in the 1970 birth cohort study Exposures: questionnaires relating to the quality of relationships with parents completed at age 16 years. Outcomes: 12-item General Health Questionnaire and the Malaise Inventory collected at age 42 years (1958 cohort) and 30 years (1970 cohort). Statistical methodology: logistic regression analyses adjusting for sex, social class and teenage mental health problems.


1958 cohort: relationships with both mother and father predicted mental health problems in adulthood; increasingly poor relationships were associated with increasing mental health problems at age 42 years. 1970 cohort: positive items derived from the Parental Bonding Instrument predicted reduced risk of mental health problems; negative aspects predicted increased risk at age 30 years. Odds of mental health problems were increased between 20 and 80% in fully adjusted models.


Results support the hypothesis that problems with parent–child relationships that fall short of abuse and neglect play a part in determining adult mental health and suggest that interventions to support parenting now being implemented in many parts of the Western world may reduce the prevalence of mental illness in adulthood.


Parenting Parent–child relationship Mental illness in adulthood Longitudinal study