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Born into adversity: psychological distress in two birth cohorts of second-generation Irish children growing up in Britain

26 Feb 2014


Worldwide, the Irish diaspora experience health inequalities persisting across generations. The present study sought to establish the prevalence of psychological morbidity in the children of migrant parents from Ireland, and reasons for differences.


Data from two British birth cohorts were used for analysis. Each surveyed 17 000 babies born in one week in 1958 and 1970 and followed up through childhood. Validated scales assessed psychological health.


Relative to the rest of the cohort, second-generation Irish children grew up in material hardship and showed greater psychological problems at ages 7, 11 (1958 cohort) and 16 (both cohorts). Adjusting for material adversity and maternal psychological distress markedly reduced differences. Relative to non-Irish parents, Irish-born parents were more likely to report chronic health problems (odds ratio [OR]: 1.29; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.08–1.54), and Irish-born mothers were more likely to be psychologically distressed (OR: 1.44; 95% CI: 1.13–1.84, when child was 10). Effect sizes diminished once material adversity was taken into account.


Second-generation Irish children experienced high levels of psychological morbidity, but this was accounted for through adverse material circumstances in childhood and psychological distress in parents. Public health initiatives focusing on settlement experiences may reduce health inequalities in migrant children.

26 February 2014

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Journal of Public Health