Previous research on debt and mental health has focused on adults, but the results have been mixed. In the current study, believed to be the first of its kind, researchers Lawrence Berger, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Jason Houle, Ph.D., of Dartmouth College examined the associations between different types of parental debt and children’s socioemotional well-being.
The researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 and Children of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 cohorts (the sample consisted of 29,318 child-year observations of 9,011 children and their mothers observed annually or biennially from 1986 to 2008). The study authors used the children’s scores on the Behavioral Problems Index to assess socioemotional well-being.
The data showed that on average, children whose parents have any debt have slightly less fewer behavioral problems than children whose parents have no debt. Specifically, higher levels of home mortgage and education debt were associated with greater socioemotional well-being for children, whereas higher levels of and increases in unsecured debt were associated with lower levels of and declines in child socioemotional well-being.
“Debt that allows for investment in homes (and perhaps access to better neighborhoods and schools) and parental education is associated with greater socioemotional well-being for children, whereas unsecured debt is negatively associated with socioemotional development, which may reflect limited financial resources to invest in children and/or parental financial stress,” the study authors concluded. “It may be efficacious to discuss with parents whether they are experiencing financial-related stressors, such as unsecured debt, and whether and how such stressors may be influencing their parenting and interactions with children.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Address Social Causes to Cut Health Inequality, Says Sir Michael Marmot.”
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