Purpose: Numerous studies have documented that lower socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with increased mental health problems in children. One proposed pathway for this association has been differential exposure to accumulated risk factors in children of lower SES. The aim of the current study was to investigate the socioeconomic distribution of exposure to negative life events and family stress and to examine the direct and interactive association between lower SES and exposure to life events and family stress in relation with mental health problems.
Methods: Using cross-sectional data from the second wave of the Bergen Child Study (conducted in 2006), the current study investigated the association between lower SES and exposure to negative life events, family life stressors, and mental health problems in a sample of 2043 Norwegian 11-13 years and their parents. Information about mental health was self-reported by the children using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, whereas information about SES and exposure to negative life events and family stressors were provided by their parents.
Results: The findings showed that lower SES was associated with more symptoms of emotional-, conduct-, hyperactivity/inattention-, and peer problems and that exposure to life events and family stress explained some of this association (10-29% of the total effects).
Conclusions: Low SES and higher prevalence of negative life events and family stressors were associated with more symptoms of mental health problems. Overall, the effect sizes were smaller than previous investigations (f 2s = 0.015-0.031), perhaps suggesting a buffering effect of the social safety net in place in Norway.
Keywords: Bergen Child Study; Cumulative stress; Mental health; SES.