What shapes 7-year-olds’ subjective well-being? Prospective analysis of early childhood and parenting using the Growing Up in Scotland study.


Purpose: Research on predictors of young children’s psychosocial well-being currently relies on adult-reported outcomes. This study investigated whether early family circumstances and parenting predict 7-year-olds’ subjective well-being. Methods: Information on supportive friendships, liking school and life satisfaction was obtained from 7-year-olds in one Growing Up in Scotland birth cohort in 2012-2013 (N = 2869). Mothers provided information on early childhood factors from 10 to 34 months, parenting (dysfunctional parenting, home learning and protectiveness) from 46 to 70 months, and 7-year-olds’ adjustment. Multivariable path models explored associations between early childhood factors, parenting and 7-year-olds’ subjective well-being. Supplementary analyses compared findings with those for mother-reported adjustment. Results: In a model of early childhood factors, maternal distress predicted less supportive friendships and lower life satisfaction (coefficients -0.12), poverty predicted less supportive friendships (-0.09) and remote location predicted all outcomes (-0.20 to -0.27). In a model with parenting added, dysfunctional parenting predicted all outcomes (-10 to -0.16), home learning predicted liking school (0.11) and life satisfaction (0.08), and protectiveness predicted life satisfaction (0.08). Effects of maternal distress were fully mediated, largely via dysfunctional parenting, while home learning mediated negative effects of low maternal education. Direct effects of poverty and remote location remained. Findings for mother-reported child adjustment were broadly similar. Conclusions: Unique prospective data show parenting and early childhood impact 7-year-olds’ subjective well-being. They underline the benefits for children of targeting parental mental health and dysfunctional parenting, and helping parents develop skills to support children at home and school.