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Poverty and parenting in the UK

Cooper, Kerris (2017) Poverty and parenting in the UK. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.zucse37vlja1


By the time children in the UK start school there is already an achievement gap between those from low income households and their better‐off classmates. One explanation for this is differences in parenting. This has increasingly been the focus of policy interventions under successive governments, where the emphasis has shifted towards parenting rather than poverty as explaining poorer children’s worse outcomes. In this context this thesis examines how the two factors, poverty and parenting are related and what mechanisms explain these relationships, specifically testing the Family Stress Model. Using the Millennium Cohort Study a range of different experiences of economic hardship are analysed in relation to different parenting behaviours when children are aged five. The findings show that it is not straightforwardly the case that low income parents parent worse, and there are some positive (as well as negative) differences in parenting between mothers with low and median incomes. For some of the negative differences in parenting these are part of a broader income‐parenting gradient that extends all the way up the distribution. When other experiences of hardship are examined (such as debt, deprivation and feeling poor) they are more strongly and negatively related to parenting behaviours, compared to income. It is found that mothers’ mental health and relationship quality are mechanisms for most parenting behaviours and are particularly important for how close the mother feels to the child, play activities and discipline. Experiencing a worsening of material deprivation is associated with a worsening of a number of parenting behaviours and changes in experiences of hardship are also related to changes in mothers’ mental health and life satisfaction. These findings highlight the importance of financial resources for parenting and suggest that any policies aimed at improving parenting in order to improve the outcomes of poor children need to address families’ economic situation, as well as mothers’ mental health and relationship quality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Kerris Cooper
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Stewart, Kitty and Platt, Lucinda

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