Social position, early deprivation and the development of attachment

  • Stephen Stansfeld
  • Jenny Head
  • Mel Bartley
  • Peter Fonagy


The effects of childhood social adversity on developing parent/child attachments may partially explain the effects of less advantaged childhood social position on adulthood mental health. Associations between social position, retrospectively recalled parental style and childhood emotional and physical deprivation and attachment were examined in 7,276 civil servants from the Whitehall II Study. Depressive symptoms were associated with insecure attachment style. Social position was not associated with attachment styles. However, fathers’ social class was strongly associated with material and emotional deprivation. In turn, deprivation was associated with lower parental warmth. High parental warmth was associated with decreased risk of insecure attachment styles. Despite the methodological shortcomings of retrospective childhood data the results suggest material and emotional adversity influence the development of attachment through parental style, notably parental warmth.


social class emotional bonds maternal deprivation cohort studies 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Stansfeld
    • 1
  • Jenny Head
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mel Bartley
    • 2
  • Peter Fonagy
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Psychiatry, Wolfson Institute of Preventive MedicineQueen Mary’s School of Medicine and DentistryLondonUK
  2. 2.Dept. of Epidemiology and Public HealthUniversity College London Medical SchoolLondonUK
  3. 3.Subdept. of Clinical Health PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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