Pioneering study links mental health difficulties to family wealth

Young people from poor backgrounds are more likely to report mental health problems than wealthier peers, a major study has revealed.

The innovative research, published by University College London (UCL), is among the first to explore the links between family wealth and children’s mental health.

According to the report, children from “higher income homes” have, on average, fewer emotional and behavioural problems than children from families with lower incomes.

But the study also found that wealth – defined as assets and savings – plays a role in children’s mental wellbeing.

To carry out the research, the authors analysed data from over 8,500 children born in the UK after the year 2000. Each was grouped by parents’ wealth, including home ownership and value, and other financial assets such as savings, stocks and shares, as well as average income.

It was found that children whose parents had greater total wealth were reported to have fewer emotional problems, such as feelings of anxiety and low mood, or behavioural difficulties, such as aggression and disobedience.

Commenting on the study, Co-author Dr Ludovica Gambaro said: “Our finding that housing wealth and property value are likely to contribute to children’s emotional and behavioural problems is worrying. While a large majority of the children participating in this study experienced family home ownership and may have benefited from the rising house prices in the early 2000s, the proportion of children growing up in homeowning families has fallen dramatically in the last decade.

“Meanwhile, the proportion growing up in rented homes has increased, creating a stark divide between children who benefit from the advantages of housing wealth and those who do not. As housing wealth inequalities increase, it is possible the divergence in children’s emotional and behavioural problems could be intensified.”

The report comes as separate studies, conducted throughout the coronavirus pandemic, highlight the importance of financial security in times of crisis. One paper, for example, found that depression rates had “tripled” among those experiencing financial hardship.

Another study, meanwhile, found that one in five women with “severe money problems” – such as being seriously behind on bills or having utilities turned off as a result of non-payment – had self-harmed in the last year.

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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