Socio-economic status and behavioral difficulties in children: Does ethnicity matter?

Vaishali Shah, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Introduction: Low parental socio-economic status has been found to be a risk factor for child behavioral problems. Several studies have noted ethnic differences in the effect of parental socio-economic status on child psychopathology. Our goals were to estimate the prevalence of behavioral difficulties in a nationally representative sample of children between age 4 to 17; and to assess if ethnicity mediates and differentially predicts the risk of child behavioral problems. Methods: We examined the parent-report Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) supplement data obtained from the 2001 National Health Interview Survey. Complete data was available for 9619 children between ages 4 to 17. A variable combining family income and maternal education was used as an indicator of family socio-economic status. Ethnicity was dichotomized into majority and minority ethnic status. We estimated the crude prevalence of total difficulties score and individual SDQ subscales (emotional problems, peer problems, hyperactive problems, conduct problems and pro-social behaviors) by ethnic status and family SES. Weighted logistic regression analyses were conducted to assess whether family SES is a risk factor for SDQ scale scores in both ethnic groups; and also to test the mediation effects of ethnicity between SDQ scale scores and family SES. Age and gender were used as co-variates in the regression models. Results: There were no clear cut differences in the crude SDQ scale scores between the majority and minority ethnic groups. Low family SES was a risk factor for overall behavioral problems only in children from the majority ethnic group. Ethnicity completely mediated the effect of low family SES on peer problems, and partially mediated the effect of low family SES on total difficulties score and conduct problems. Conclusion: Lack of clear ethnic differences in prevalence of behavioral problems in children may be related to a variety of research and reporting factors, indicating the need for further longitudinal research in the field. Ethnicity may provide an important context for selection of interventions to prevent and treat child psychopathology at an individual or community level.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Shah, Vaishali, "Socio-economic status and behavioral difficulties in children: Does ethnicity matter?" (2013). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1549840.