Socioeconomic risk factors for mental health problems in 4-5-year-old children: Australian population study

Elise DAVIS, Michael G. SAWYER, Sing Kai LO, Naomi PRIEST, Melissa WAKE

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Objective.-To describe the extent to which parent- and teacher-reported child mental health problems vary by different indicators of socioeconomic status. Methods.-Participants were 4-5-year-old children in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Parents (N = 4968) and teacher (N = 3245) completed the 3-4-year-old version of Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Parents also reported the socioeconomic indicators of income, education, employment, and family composition (1- vs 2-parent families). Logistic regression models were used to predict SDQ total difficulties and each of the 4 SDQ subscales problems, as reported by parents and by teacher, and considered all putative socioeconomic status (SES) predictor variables simultaneously. Results.-The proportions of children scoring in the abnormal range varied according to SES indicator and mental health subscale. All of the SES indicators independently predicted parent-reported child mental health problems, although odds ratios were generally small to moderate (1.2 to 2.4), and not all reached statistical significance. Low income and parent education showed larger associations than sole parenthood or unemployment. The pattern for teachers was similar, though less consistent. Behavioral problems showed stronger associations with social disadvantage than emotional problems. Conclusions.-Research examining pathways to young children's mental health should include diverse measures of SES, particularly of family income and education. The fact that mental health problems were most strongly associated with parent education and income should be of interest to policy makers because education and income reflect investments in the lives of our participants' parents during their own childhood and adolescence. Copyright © 2010 Academic Pediatrics Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-47
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010



Davis, E., Sawyer, M. G., Lo, S. K., Priest, N., & Wake, M. (2010). Socioeconomic risk factors for mental health problems in 4-5-year-old children: Australian population study. Academic Pediatrics, 10(1), 41-47.


  • Children
  • Psychopathology
  • Risk factors
  • Socio-economic status