Economic deprivation and its effects on childhood conduct problems: the mediating role of family stress and investment factors

Edward M. Sosu, Peter Schmidt

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This study investigated the mechanisms by which experiences of poverty influence the trajectory of conduct problems among preschool children. Drawing on two theoretical perspectives, we focused on family stress (stress and harsh discipline) and investment variables (educational investment, nutrition, and cognitive ability) as key mediators. Structural equation modeling techniques with prospective longitudinal data from the Growing Up in Scotland survey (N = 3,375) were used. Economic deprivation measured around the first birthday of the sample children had both direct and indirect effects on conduct problems across time (ages 4, 5, and 6). In line with the family stress hypothesis, higher levels of childhood poverty predicted conduct problems across time through increased parental stress and punitive discipline. Consistent with the investment model, childhood deprivation was associated with higher levels of conduct problems via educational investment and cognitive ability. The study extends previous knowledge on the mechanisms of this effect by demonstrating that cognitive ability is a key mediator between poverty and the trajectory of childhood conduct problems. This suggests that interventions aimed at reducing child conduct problems should be expanded to include factors that compromise parenting as well as improve child cognitive ability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1580
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sep 2017


  • conduct problems
  • economic deprivation
  • poverty
  • family stress model
  • investment model
  • cognitive ability
  • preschool

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