The UK government has put in place strategies to help families recover from COVID-19, with priority Re-engagement of pupils in schooland parental support employment and help families find access Mental health support. But have parents been negatively affected by the pandemic — and if so, which parents have suffered the most? Boking Chen and colleagues from University College London’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and the International Center for Life Path Studies in Society and Health looked at millennial parents and found that some parents were particularly affected compared to their childless peers. In this blog they present their findings and their implications for policy making in this field.
We know that the pandemic has led to some mental health problems for young people. But what is the effect of this on the parents? Parents of young children – even those with good incomes and family support – are likely to suffer from stress, lack of exercise and lack of sleep. And the pandemic has added to additional pressures: schools and nurseries are closed, along with group activities and playgrounds. About a third of parents have had to change their work patterns to take care of children, and struggle to keep them safe and busy at home.
We wanted to look more closely at the epidemiological experiences of different groups of millennial parents (those born in the 1980s through the mid-1990s).
We used the following steps, a cohort study that followed a large sample of people born in those times. The study, which already included information on the participants’ mental health, family, and finances collected when they were in their early teens and mid-twenties, was able to put together a special set of Questioning them about the psychological effects of the crisis enables us to look at and compare what was happening in their lives before, during, and through the pandemic.
We looked at whether the age and number of children of the participants were related to their mental state, along with work, financial status, relationship and gender. Younger fathers, especially mothers with more than one child, are known to be at particular risk, and their experiences of work, housing, relationships, and whether they have a higher level of education are also likely to be affected.
We expected to find:
- greater distress among parents than among non-parents, especially women;
- greater distress among parents with children two years of age or older;
- Greater distress among fathers who were more vulnerable through financial and relationship circumstances.
Next Steps is a nationally representative study of 15,770 individuals born in 1989-90, whose participants were 30 years of age at the time of the epidemic. About 2,800 parents were interviewed for the study in fall 2020 and about 2,900 in spring 2021.
At that time, about a quarter of men and half of women were fathers. Almost half of parents have one child, and just over half have a child under two years old.
In the fall of 2020, after the first wave of COVID, but before the second, the data showed no overall differences between men who were fathers and those who were not, although mothers had better mental health outcomes if they had one or two children. under the age of two.
In the spring of 2021, we didn’t detect much difference between parents and non-parents. The only exception was fathers living with three or more children, who reported significantly worse mental health compared to other men.
Looking at parents’ work and financial circumstances prior to the outbreak, we saw that some parents (compared to their childless peers) reported more distress if they were working. There was also some evidence that fathers who lived less well before the pandemic experienced more stress during the crisis than other men in the study.
Overall, we did not find strong evidence for a general pattern of mental health decline among fathers at this point. But remarkably, we found that parents with one child or children under the age of two had worse mental health if they also worked: working parents had to deal with reduced hours, telecommuting and new caring responsibilities due to school closures, and that may require them to change the balance between Work and family life.
We also found some differences between parent groups: Mothers of young children reported better mental health in fall 2020, so perhaps the benefits from childbirth outweigh the stresses of childbearing during a pandemic—we know that happiness generally increases before and around childbirth and then decreases in the next two years.
Other studies have indicated that parents who applied for benefits during the pandemic and who had difficulty paying the bills experienced worsening mental health—these parents may also have been more likely to lack affordable food sources, and to live in unsafe neighborhoods with schools in short supply. resources, and the difficulty of obtaining high-quality child care. The fact that our fathers were more at risk may indicate that the pressures of the “breadwinner” role are particularly strong among new millennial parents compared to their older children.
Our findings support the argument that some parents’ experiences with the pandemic may differ from those of other groups among millennials. While parenthood wasn’t a major risk factor, the financial insecurity that came with the pandemic left many young parents feeling distressed.
Therefore, our research supports the argument that policymakers should prioritize working parents in COVID recovery programmes. We need to continue to monitor the mental health of this group in the long term, and more studies are needed to confirm our finding that some parents may have been negatively affected. We believe research is needed to explore the gender- and age-related effects that may have put new generations coming of age at risk.
Parenting and psychological distress among English millennials during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from a Next Steps cohort study. By Boqing Chen, Anne McMunn, and Thierry Gagné, Published in Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology in November 2022: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-022-02392-x