Mothers’ experience of racism appears to have negative effect on child development, study finds

9 July 2012

Ethnic minority mothers’ experience of racism is negatively associated with some aspects of their children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development, new research suggests.

The researchers, who examined data collected by the Millennium Cohort Study, found that mothers’ perception of racism was linked to poorer child scores in tests measuring socio-emotional difficulties and spatial abilities. Their analysis also identified consistent but weak associations between mothers’ experience of racist behaviour and child obesity.

The study, published online by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, was led by Professor Yvonne Kelly, of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex. It involved 2,136 mothers and their five-year-old children. Five ethnic minority groups were included in the analysis: Pakistani (716 children), Indian (416), Black African (362), Black Caribbean (348) and Bangladeshi (294).

The researchers used MCS data because the age 5 survey asked mothers about their experiences of interpersonal racism, and the frequency of racist insults and attacks in their local area. Mothers were also questioned about their child’s socio-emotional behaviour while the children themselves took a range of verbal and non-verbal tests.

Professor Kelly’s study is the first of its kind in the UK. Most previous research on this topic has involved adolescents in the US.

The authors say that living in an area where racist attacks are perceived to be common may lead to children spending less time outside the home, thus limiting their breadth of experiences and interactions with others. This may be further compounded by the impact of poor parental mental health, linked to experience of racism.

“Interventions that aim to improve early child development and address ethnic health inequalities need to incorporate approaches to tackling racism at all levels of society,” the researchers add.

Full report

Associations between maternal experiences of racism and early child health and development: findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, by Yvonne Kelly, Laia Becares and James Nazroo is available from the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health website.