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Testing Models of Associations Between Depression and Parenting Self-efficacy in Mothers: A Meta-analytic Review


Numerous cross-sectional studies confirm the long-theorized association between mothers’ depression and lower parenting self-efficacy (PSE) beliefs. However, cross-sectional studies leave unanswered the direction of this association: Does depression predict PSE? Does PSE predict depression? Are both true? Does the strength of the association between depression and PSE, regardless of the direction, generalize across participant characteristics and study design features? How stable is PSE over time? And how effective are interventions at enhancing PSE? To answer these questions, we conducted a meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies. With 35 eligible studies (22,698 participants), we found support for both models: there was a significant pooled effect of both depression on PSE and of PSE on depression, with nearly identical effect sizes (d =   − 0.21 and − 0.22, respectively). The association was stronger in samples with mothers’ younger average age and studies that measured PSE among mothers relative to during pregnancy. We found a medium degree of stability in the index of PSE, d = 0.60. Finally, the estimated pooled effect size between being in an intervention group versus control group and PSE was 0.505. Overall, we found support for (1) bidirectional associations between depression and PSE in mothers, (2) the stability of PSE over time, and (3) the strength of the relationship between PSE and depression with intervention. These results suggest the importance of continuing to develop, test, and disseminate interventions to enhance PSE. We interpret these findings in the context of both depression and low PSE having serious consequences for child outcomes and maladaptive parenting.

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Data Availability

The data extracted from the eligible publications formed the datasets analyzed for this review. Thus, the data are openly available in the published studies.


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Correspondence to Sherryl H. Goodman.

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Conflict of interest

We have no known conflict of interest to disclose. The study was not preregistered. We are grateful to Hannah Rogers, library informationist, for her help in developing the search strategy. We would also like to thank the researchers who provided additional data from their respective studies to facilitate estimation of meta-analytic effect sizes.

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All procedures and findings are reported in accordance with professional research ethics guidelines and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines (Liberati et al., 2009).

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Goodman, S.H., Simon, H., McCarthy, L. et al. Testing Models of Associations Between Depression and Parenting Self-efficacy in Mothers: A Meta-analytic Review. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev (2022).

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  • Depression
  • Parenting self-efficacy
  • Women
  • Mothers
  • Children