Objective: To assess whether the structure of the parental background (birth, restructured, widowed, single) or the context (severe social disadvantage or care) in childhood is associated with psychological problems in adolescence and adulthood.
Method: Data on 8,441 cohort members of the National Child Development Study were used to explore the impact of parental background on maladjustment at age 16, as assessed by the Rutter A Health and Behaviour Checklist, and psychological distress at age 33, as assessed by the Malaise Inventory.
Results: Restructured parenting (without disadvantage or care) was not a risk factor for maladjustment at age 16. Rather, a childhood experience of care or social disadvantage was significantly related to psychosocial problems at age 16. Psychological distress at age 33 was associated with maladjustment at age 16. A childhood experience of care was associated with a tendency to adult psychological distress in men, as was growing up with a single parent.
Conclusions: It is not the structure of the family background but the context that is more strongly associated with maladjustment in adolescence. A childhood experience of single parenthood and an experience of care predicted adult psychological distress in men but not in women.