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Community-level social capital, parental psychological distress, and child physical abuse: a multilevel mediation analysis



The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between community-level social capital and physical abuse towards children, and the mediating effect of parental psychological distress by multilevel mediation analyses.


We analyzed data from a population-based study of first-grade elementary school children (6–7 years old) in Adachi City, Tokyo, Japan. The caregivers of first-grade students from all elementary schools in Adachi City (N = 5355) were asked to respond to a questionnaire assessing parents’ self-reported physical abuse (beating and hitting) and neighborhood social capital. Among them, 4291 parents returned valid responses (response rate 80.1%). We performed multilevel analyses to determine the relationships between community-level parental social capital and physical abuse, and further multilevel mediation analyses were performed to determine whether parental psychological distress mediated the association.


Low community-level social capital was positively associated with physical abuse (both beating and hitting) after adjustment for other individual covariates (beating: middle, OR = 1.54, 95% CI 1.11–2.13; low, OR = 1.33, 95% CI 0.94–1.88; and hitting: middle, OR = 1.35, 95% CI 1.02–1.80; low, OR = 1.16, 95% CI 0.86–1.57). Multilevel mediation analyses revealed that community-level parental psychological distress did not mediate the association (indirect effect ß = 0.10, 95% CI − 0.10 to 0.29, p = 0.34 for beating; ß = 0.03, 95% CI − 0.16 to 0.23, p = 0.74 for hitting).


Fostering community-level social capital might be important for developing a strategy to prevent child maltreatment, which may have a direct impact on abusive behavior towards children.

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We are particularly grateful to the staff members and central office of Adachi City Hall for conducting the survey. We would like to thank everyone who participated in the surveys. In particular, we would also like to thank Mayor Yayoi Kondo, Mr. Syuichiro Akiu, Mr. Hideaki Otaka, and Ms. Yuko Baba of Adachi City Hall, all of whom contributed significantly to completion of this study. This study was supported by a Health Labour Sciences Research Grant, Comprehensive Research on Lifestyle Disease from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (H27-Jyunkankito-ippan-002), and Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS KAKENHI Grant Nos. 16H03276, 16K21669 and 16J11423), St. Luke’s Life Science Institute Grants, and the Japan Health Foundation Grants.

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Correspondence to Takeo Fujiwara.

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Nawa, N., Isumi, A. & Fujiwara, T. Community-level social capital, parental psychological distress, and child physical abuse: a multilevel mediation analysis. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 53, 1221–1229 (2018).

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  • Child abuse
  • Child maltreatment
  • Mediation analysis
  • Multilevel modelling
  • Social capital
  • Psychological distress