Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 137–154 | Cite as

Parents’ Relationship Quality and Children’s Externalizing Problems: The Moderating Role of Mother–Child Relations and Family Socio-demographic Background

  • Anna GarrigaEmail author
  • Jorge Martínez-Lucena
  • Almudena Moreno


This study investigates the extent to which parents’ relationship quality affects children’s externalizing problems and whether the quality of the mother–child relationship and the family socio-demographic background moderate this association. We use data from a nationally representative sample of UK children (the Millennium Cohort Study) and OLS regressions models. We find that parents’ relationship quality is clearly related to children’s externalizing problems at ages 3 and 5 years and that the quality of mother–child relationships explains a substantial part of this association. Notably, a reported warm relationship with the mother does not reduce the detrimental effect of poor parental relationship problems, whereas a conflictual relationship exacerbates it. The effect of parents’ relationship quality is the same for children from different ethnic and marital status backgrounds, as well as for mother’s education and child’s gender, but is greatest amongst poorer children. At age 5, poor children with the lowest level of parents’ relationship quality have an externalizing score of 7.21 while poor children with the highest level have a score of 4.16; a 3 point difference. In contrast, among rich children, those with the lowest level of parent relationship quality have an externalizing score of 6.16 while those with the highest level have a score of 4.01; a difference of 2.15 points. These findings suggest that policies and intervention programs that promote parents’ relationship quality are likely to be beneficial for children from different family contexts, but especially for those from poor families.


Parents’ relationship quality Maternal representations of mother–child relationship Family socio-demographic background Children’s externalizing problems UK Millennium Cohort Study 



This study was funded by Postdoctoral Program 2012 of Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CSO2015-69439-R) and by Abat Oliba University and “La Caixa” Foundation (project PROFAM).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political and Social SciencePompeu Fabra UniversityBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Humanities DepartmentUniversity Abat Oliba CEUBarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Department of Sociology and Social WorkUniversity of ValladolidSegoviaSpain

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