Past research has established the intergenerational patterning of mental health: children whose parents have mental health problems are more likely to present with similar problems themselves. However, there is limited knowledge about the extent to which factors related to the child's own social context, such as peer relationships, matter for this patterning. The aim of the current study was to examine the role of childhood peer status positions for the association in mental health across two generations.
The data were drawn from a prospective cohort study of 14,608 children born in 1953, followed up until 2016, and their parents. Gender-specific logistic regression analysis was applied. Firstly, we examined the associations between parental mental health problems and childhood peer status, respectively, and the children's mental health problems in adulthood. Secondly, the variation in the intergenerational patterning of mental health according to peer status position was investigated.
The results showed that children whose parents had mental health problems were around twice as likely to present with mental health problems in adulthood. Moreover, lower peer status position in childhood was associated with increased odds of mental health problems. Higher peer status appeared to mitigate the intergenerational association in mental health problems among men. For women, a u-shaped was found, indicating that the association was stronger in both the lower and upper ends of the peer status hierarchy.
This study has shown that there is a clear patterning in mental health problems across generations, and that the child generation's peer status positions matter for this patterning. The findings also point to the importance of addressing gender differences in these associations.