Aspects of Economic Disadvantage that Predict Internalizing and Externalizing Problems among Dutch 3-Year-Olds

Many studies have reported more problems for children from economically disadvantaged families than for children from more advantaged families. However, much remains to be learned about the aspects of economic disadvantage that raise risks for particular kinds of problems. Starting with pregnant women in Rotterdam, the Generation R Longitudinal Study measured many prenatal and postnatal characteristics of 2,169 children born to the women, as well as many characteristics of their families (Rijlaarsdam et al., 2013). When the children were 3 years old, both parents completed the CBCL/1½-5. Economic disadvantage was assessed with multiple measures at 30 weeks gestation. The following possible mediators of problem behavior were assessed after the child’s birth: Physical condition of the home, provision of learning materials for the child, maternal depressive symptoms, parenting stress, and harsh discipline. Structural equation modeling yielded the following significant predictive relations, with similar results for mothers’ and fathers’ CBCL ratings: High age-3 Internalizing and Externalizing scores were predicted by economic disadvantage directly and also indirectly via maternal depressive symptoms, parenting stress, and harsh discipline. Lack of learning materials in the home additionally predicted high Internalizing scores. The authors concluded that “interventions that focus solely on raising income levels may not adequately address problems in the family processes that emerge as a result of economic disadvantage. Policies to improve the mental health of mothers with young children but also their home environments are needed to change the economic gradient in child behavior” (p. 125).

Reference: Rijlaarsdam, J., Stevens, G. W. J. M., van der Ende, J., Hofman, A., Jaddoe, V.W.V., Mackenbach, J.P., Verhulst, F.C., & Tiemeier, H. (2013). Economic disadvantage and young children’s emotional and behavioral problems: Mechanisms of risk. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 125-137.