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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Appendix A: Comparing life satisfaction and mental distress between included and excluded samples
|Included in the analysis||Dropped||Equality test|
|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|
Appendix B: Summary of means, standard deviations, and ranges for dependent and control variables
|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|
|Number of close friends||6.754||6.064||0–83|
|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: Completed university||.405||.491||0–1|
|Mother’s distress at t||2.258||3.280||0–12|
|Mother’s distress at t − 1||2.186||3.208||0–12|
|Education: Completed university||.317||.465||0–1|
|Log of real household income||1.148||.587||4.87–12.56|
|Number of adolescents in the household||2.446||.970||1–9|
Appendix C: Covariances (and correlations) between household and individual level random effects across simultaneous equations for child’s life satisfaction and parental mental distress
|Within household||Father’s distress||.071 (.037)|
|Mother’s distress||.004 (.043)|
|Within individual||Father’s distress||.000 (.000)|
|Mother’s distress||.000 (.000)|
|Within occasion||Father’s distress||−.081 (.052)|
|Mother’s distress||−.152 (.056)|
|Within household||Wife’s distress||.120 (.102)|
|Within individual||Wife’s distress||.000 (.000)|
|Within occasion||Wife’s distress||1.322 (.122)|
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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
- Life satisfaction
- Mental health
- Intergenerational transmission