ALSPAC parents’ descriptions of childhood stresses in their parents and grandparents

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)


Background: There is evidence that childhood stresses or traumas influence individuals’ descendants’ health and wellbeing through epigenetic mechanisms. However, few longitudinal studies have details of such ancestral data.

Methods: Nearly 7,000 parents of the original Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort completed questionnaires concerning their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods. Validation of these questionnaires involved conducting recorded interviews with 100 of these parents.

Results: The interviews provided insights into the childhoods of two previous generations of this cohort, most of whom had lived through one, if not two, World Wars. Many children were brought up, not by their parents but by relatives or acquaintances and/or left home very young to ‘go into service’ or start work. A few interviewees had wealthy relatives with nannies and governesses and attended expensive boarding schools but by far the most frequent accounts were of poverty, often severe, with related lack of education and illiteracy, alcoholism and violence, alongside devastating effects of the World Wars.

Conclusions: Although the interviews focussed on stresses in childhood and therefore the accounts seemed somewhat negative, many interviewees described their relatives as having secure, stable childhoods. Of the many struggling families though, the predominant impression was their remarkable resilience; all went on to have children or grandchildren who are stable enough to participate for three decades, entirely altruistically, in ALSPAC.
Original languageEnglish
Article number115
Number of pages13
JournalWellcome Open Research
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2021


  • family history
  • childhood stress
  • transgenerational inheritance
  • grandparents
  • great-grandparents


Dive into the research topics of 'ALSPAC parents’ descriptions of childhood stresses in their parents and grandparents'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this