Mental Health of Parents and Life Satisfaction of Children: A Within-Family Analysis of Intergenerational Transmission of Well-Being

Abstract

This paper addresses the extent to which there is an intergenerational transmission of mental health and subjective well-being within families. Specifically it asks whether parents’ own mental distress influences their child’s life satisfaction, and vice versa. Whilst the evidence on daily contagion of stress and strain between members of the same family is substantial, the evidence on the transmission between parental distress and children’s well-being over a longer period of time is sparse. We tested this idea by examining the within-family transmission of mental distress from parent to child’s life satisfaction, and vice versa, using rich longitudinal data on 1,175 British youths. Results show that parental distress at year t − 1 is an important determinant of child’s life satisfaction in the current year. This is true for boys and girls, although boys do not appear to be affected by maternal distress levels. The results also indicated that the child’s own life satisfaction is related with their father’s distress levels in the following year, regardless of the gender of the child. Finally, we examined whether the underlying transmission correlation is due to shared social environment, empathic reactions, or transmission via parent–child interaction.

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Appendices

Appendix A: Comparing life satisfaction and mental distress between included and excluded samples

  Included in the analysis Dropped Equality test
T-statistics [p-value]
LS at t 5.847 (1.259) 5.860 (1.306)  −.305 [.760]
Father’s mental distress at t 1.814 (.068) 1.752 (.083) .583 [.560]
Mother’s mental distress at t 2.276 (.074) 2.223 (.090) .458 [.647]
Number of observations 4,174 2,497   
  1. Note: Standard errors are in parentheses, unless stated otherwise

Appendix B: Summary of means, standard deviations, and ranges for dependent and control variables

  M STD Range
Child’s characteristics
LS at t 5.851 1.275 1–7
LS at t − 1 5.887 1.263 1–7
LS at t (Boys) 5.962 1.189 1–7
LS at t (Girls) 5.738 1.348 1–7
Youth’s age 13.015 1.442 11–16
Number of close friends 6.754 6.064 0–83
Father’s characteristics
Father’s mental distress at t 1.791 2.971 0–12
Father’s mental distress at t − 1 1.759 2.914 0–12
Education: A-level .391 .488 0–1
Education: Completed university .405 .491 0–1
Self-employed .157 .364 0–1
Employed full-time .705 .456 0–1
Health: poor .069 .254 0–1
Health: fair .199 .399 0–1
Health: good .446 .497 0–1
Health: excellent .262 .440 0–1
Mother’s characteristics
Mother’s distress at t 2.258 3.280 0–12
Mother’s distress at t − 1 2.186 3.208 0–12
Education: A-level .489 .500 0–1
Education: Completed university .317 .465 0–1
Self-employed .057 .231 0–1
Employed full-time .670 .470 0–1
Health: poor .075 .263 0–1
Health: fair .204 .403 0–1
Health: good .475 .499 0–1
Health: excellent .221 .415 0–1
Household variables
Log of real household income 1.148 .587 4.87–12.56
Number of adolescents in the household 2.446 .970 1–9
  1. Note: N = 1,175 adolescents

Appendix C: Covariances (and correlations) between household and individual level random effects across simultaneous equations for child’s life satisfaction and parental mental distress

  Cov (SE)
Corr
Child’s LS
Within household Father’s distress .071 (.037)
.276
Mother’s distress .004 (.043)
.011
Within individual Father’s distress .000 (.000)
.000
Mother’s distress .000 (.000)
.000
Within occasion Father’s distress  −.081 (.052)
 −.030
Mother’s distress  −.152 (.056)
 −.052
Husband’s distress
Within household Wife’s distress .120 (.102)
.098
Within individual Wife’s distress .000 (.000)
.000
Within occasion Wife’s distress 1.322 (.122)
.212
  1. Note: Estimates are form fitting three separate simultaneous equation models for child’s LS, father’s distress, and mother’s distress taken from Table 3. Standard errors are in parentheses

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Powdthavee, N., Vignoles, A. Mental Health of Parents and Life Satisfaction of Children: A Within-Family Analysis of Intergenerational Transmission of Well-Being. Soc Indic Res 88, 397–422 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-007-9223-2

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Keywords

  • Life satisfaction
  • Mental health
  • Intergenerational transmission
  • Within-family
  • Longitudinal
  • GHQ