Our researchers based at the University of Glasgow have had an article published in the Journal of Family Psychology. ‘Parenting Stress and Parent Support Among Mothers with High and Low Education’ by Alison Parkes, Helen Sweeting and Daniel Wight uses data from our Birth Cohort 2 families to look at how stress varies amongst different groups of parents and how stress levels are related to differences in the levels of support available to families.

Key points

The researchers wanted to find if out the stress associated with bringing up children is different for parents with different educational backgrounds.  They also wanted to find out to what extent deficits in support are related to parenting stress.

Other research has suggested that parenting stress is greater among parents from both low and high socioeconomic positions (SEP) because of material hardship among parents of low SEP and because of employment demands among parents of high SEP.

Using data from GUS Birth Cohort 2 when the children were aged 10 months, the researchers found that maternal parenting stress is indeed higher among both the most and least educated mothers, compared with mothers who have intermediate level education.  They also found that high parenting stress is more likely for migrant families (where parents were born outside of Scotland) and for single-parent families.

In terms of support from grandparents, both high educated and lower educated migrants experienced less frequent contact with grandparents, since few had grandparents living nearby. However, compared with intermediate SEP families, less frequent contact with grandparents was also seen among low-educated families with parents born in the UK, even though most had grandparents living nearby. A small grandparent network was particularly evident among low-educated single mothers, where one fifth of babies had contact with only one grandparent (typically the maternal grandmother).

High educated parents were more reliant on formal childcare and enjoyed less regular contact with friends, compared with the intermediate group. Lower educated families had smaller grandparent and friend networks, compared with the intermediate group. They were also more likely than other groups to perceive barriers to accessing parenting support from formal professional sources, like Health Visitors.

Further analysis showed that the lack of support from either formal or informal sources explains about half of the parenting stress experienced by both high and lower educated mothers. Less frequent contact with the child’s grandparents helps to explain the higher stress experienced by both groups, with this effect strongest among migrants.

However, the support deficits experienced by both groups differed in other ways. Stress among low- educated mothers was associated with smaller and less effective social support networks whereas stress among higher-educated mothers was associated with less readily accessible informal support from friends and family, despite larger network size and quality.

Reliance on formal childcare was a particular source of stress for high-educated mothers, who were more likely to be in full-time employment than less-educated groups.  Barriers to professional support were most pertinent for low-educated mothers.

These findings suggest that understanding how parenting stress varies between different groups of parents might be enhanced by considering particular groups at risk of low support. By examining how different groups experience parenting stress as a result of low support, outreach programmes and interventions might be targeted to maximise the benefits to different groups of families and to make efficient use of resources.



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