Paternal depressive symptoms and child behavioral or emotional problems in the United States

Pediatrics. 2011 Dec;128(6):1126-34. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-3034. Epub 2011 Nov 7.


Background: The negative effects of maternal mental health problems on child health are well documented. In contrast, there is a profound paucity of information about paternal mental health's association with child health.

Objective: To investigate the association of paternal mental health problems and depressive symptoms and children's emotional or behavioral problems.

Methods: We analyzed Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data, which included a representative sample of US children (N = 21 993) aged 5 to 17 years and their mothers and fathers. The main outcome measure was child emotional or behavioral problems assessed by using the Columbia Impairment Scale.

Results: Paternal depressive symptoms, as assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire-2, and mental health problems, more generally, assessed by using the Short-Form 12 Scale, were independently associated with increased rates of child emotional or behavioral problems even after controlling for numerous potential confounders including maternal depressive symptoms and other mental health problems. The adjusted odds ratio (aOR) for emotional or behavioral problems among children of fathers with depressive symptoms was 1.72 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.33-2.23) and the aOR associated with abnormal paternal scores on the mental component scale of the Short-Form 12 was 1.33 (95% CI: 1.10-1.62) for those within 1 SD below average and 1.48 (95% CI: 1.20-1.84) for those >1 SD below average.

Conclusions: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use a representative US sample to demonstrate that living with fathers with depressive symptoms and other mental health problems is independently associated with increased rates of emotional or behavioral problems of children.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Emotions*
  • Fathers*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • United States