Children who are brought up in more expensive homes have fewer mental health problems than those from cheaper houses, research has found.
They are less likely to suffer from anxiety and low mood and also more likely to get on well with their peers, researchers at University College London (UCL) found.
While the link between overall wealth and mental wellbeing is well established, the findings highlight the key role that the value of a family’s home plays in a child’s development.
Dr Ludovica Gambaro and Dr Vanessa Moulton, from UCL’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, looked at a range of wealth indicators of the families of 8,500 children, all born around 2000, who are taking part in the internationally respected Millennium Cohort Study.
They voiced concern that, given their results, falling home ownership and the growing number of families renting may widen the gap that already exists in Britain in children and young people’s mental health related to how rich or poor their parents are.
“Our finding that housing wealth and property value are likely to contribute to children’s emotional and behavioural problems is worrying,” said Gambaro.
“While a large majority of the children participating in this study experienced family home ownership, and may have benefited from the rising house prices in the early 2000s, the proportion of children growing up in home-owning families has fallen dramatically in the last decade.
“Meanwhile, the proportion growing up in rented homes has increased, creating a stark divide between children who benefit from the advantages of housing wealth and those who do not.
“As housing wealth inequalities increase, it is possible the divergence in children’s emotional and behavioural problems could be intensified.”
Six in 10 of the children’s families were homeowners. The authors said there were differences in propensity to mental health problems linked to the value of their home, and not between children in privately owned homes and those in social or rented dwellings.
The authors found that children brought up in homes worth £400,000 had an average behavioural and emotional difficulties score of 6.9, whereas it was 8.2 – a 16% difference – among those from homes worth £100,000.
Housing is by far the most important asset in the wealth portfolio of families with children in the UK. This partly explains why housing wealth was more closely associated with children’s mental health than financial wealth, said Moulton.
“But the finding that peer relationships in particular are sensitive to housing wealth points to possible psychological benefits of living in more spacious homes, in areas with more access to resources and advantaged populations, that have been overlooked before.”
The findings are published in the journal Child Development. The authors looked at various measures of parents’ wealth, including home ownership and value, savings, stocks and shares.
Tom Madders, the campaigns director at the charity YoungMinds, said: “This concerning research shows clear links between housing wealth and mental health, and suggests that children growing up with less financial security are more at risk of developing emotional and behavioural problems.
“Covid-19 has highlighted these inequalities: the experience of lockdown is likely to have been even harder for some children growing up in smaller or more crowded homes, without outside space.”
Ministers should bring forward a new strategy on children’s mental health that recognises the impact of financial insecurity on their mental wellbeing, he added.