A new study reveals shared risk factors among children in the United States and Great Britain that increase the likelihood that these kids will have behavioral problems and Britain's broader social welfare programs don't seem to reduce those risks. The study appears in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (JHSB).
The researchers—from North Carolina State University, California State University-Northridge, and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign—evaluated data from a 1994 study of children between the ages of five and 13 in the U.S. and a 1991 study of children in the same age range from England, Scotland, and Wales.
In both the U.S. and Great Britain, the JHSB study found that male children, children with health problems, and children with divorced mothers were more likely to have behavioral problems.
"We also found that stronger home environments—those that are intellectually stimulating, nurturing, and physically safe—decrease the likelihood of behavior problems in both the U.S. and Great Britain," said Dr. Toby Parcel, a professor of sociology at NC State and lead author of the JHSB study.
"We wanted to see whether the role of parents was equally important in both societies because the argument has been made that more developed welfare states—such as Great Britain—can make the role of parents less important, by providing additional supports that can help compensate for situations where households have more limited resources. This study tells us that parents are important in households, regardless of the strength of the welfare state."
While there were common risk factors for children in the U.S. and Great Britain, there were also some differences between these groups. For example, "family structure" effects were more pronounced in Great Britain. Family structure, in this context, refers to marital status and family size. In Great Britain, a child from a family with a single mother or multiple children was at a higher risk of having behavioral problems. Additionally, the more children in a British family, the greater the likelihood a child from that family had behavioral problems. These effects were absent in the U.S.
Titled, "Children's Behavior Problems in the United States and Great Britain," the study was co-authored by Dr. Lori Ann Campbell, of Cal State-Northridge, and Dr. Wenxuan Zhong, of University of Illinois, and was funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation.
The researchers are now looking to see how shared risk factors may influence child cognition and academic achievement across these two societies. Parcel and Campbell have previously shown that parents are critical to the creation of strong home environments in both the U.S. and Great Britain.