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Childhood correlates of adult positive mental well-being in three British longitudinal studies
  1. Natasha Wood1,
  2. Rebecca Hardy2,
  3. David Bann3,
  4. Catharine Gale4,
  5. Mai Stafford5
  1. 1 Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2 CLOSER, UCL, London, UK
  3. 3 Centre for Longitudinal Studies, UCL, London, UK
  4. 4 Psychology, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  5. 5 The Health Foundation, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Natasha Wood, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Big Data Institute, Old Road Campus, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK; natasha.wood{at}


Background Previous evidence has shown how experiences within childhood, such as parenting and socioeconomic conditions, are associated later on in life with adult mental well-being. However, these studies tend to focus on childhood experiences in isolation, and fewer studies have investigated how multiple aspects of the childhood environment, including both socioeconomic and psychosocial aspects, are associated with adult positive mental well-being. Using data from three British birth cohort studies, we investigated how prospective measures of the childhood environment up to the age of 16 years were associated with midlife adult mental well-being and whether similar associations were replicated across different generations.

Methods Childhood environment comprised socioeconomic circumstances, psychosocial factors (child-rearing and parenting, family instability) and parental health. The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, a validated instrument measuring both hedonic and eudaemonic aspects of well-being, was administered in mid-life. We modelled associations between childhood environment domains and well-being.

Results Despite changes in social context in all three studies, poorer quality parent–child relationships and poor parental mental health were strongly and independently associated with poorer adult mental well-being. Socioeconomic circumstances were also associated with adult mental well-being, but the association was weaker than for the measures of parenting or parental mental health.

Conclusion These findings confirm that parenting and parental mental health, as well as socioeconomic circumstances, are important for adult mental well-being. Interventions in early childhood aimed at reducing socioeconomic adversity and offering support to parents might be warranted, to enhance adult mental well-being later on in the life course.

  • Social and life-course epidemiology
  • Cohort studies
  • Child health
  • Lifecourse/Childhood Circumstances

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  • Contributors Design: MS, NW, RH. Analysis: NW, MS. Writing and editing: all authors.

  • Funding This project is part of a collaborative research programme entitled ‘Cohorts and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources’ (CLOSER). This programme is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) ( grant reference: ES/K000357/1. The UK Medical Research Council ( provides core funding for the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (MC_UU_12019/1, MC_UU_12019/5, MC_UU_12019/2). The UK Economic and Social Research Council provides core funding for the National Child Development Study and the British Cohort Study (ES/M001660/1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement The NCDS and the BCS70 data sets generated and analysed in the current study are publicly available in the UK Data Archive repository: BCS70: NCDS: The authors confirm that, due to ethical restrictions, data underlying the findings cannot be made publicly available. Data are available on request to the NSHD Data Sharing Committee. NSHD data sharing policies and processes meet the requirements and expectations of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) policy on sharing of data from population and patient cohorts: Interested researchers can apply to access the NSHD data via a standard application procedure. Data requests should be submitted to; further details can be found at doi:10.5522/NSHD/Q101; doi:10.5522/NSHD/Q10.

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