Early Childhood Father Absence and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescent Girls from a UK Cohort: The Mediating Role of Early Menarche

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Abstract

Absence of the biological father in early childhood has been linked to depressive symptoms in mid-adolescent girls. Earlier studies have linked father absence to early timing of menarche, and early menarche is a risk factor for increased depressive symptoms in adolescence. No studies, however, have examined whether the association between father absence and depressive symptoms may be explained by the early onset of menarche. This study investigated whether age at menarche mediates the association between father absence in early childhood (birth to 5 years) and depressive symptoms in adolescent girls aged 14 years. The study sample comprised 7056 girls from a large UK birth cohort (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) who provided data on age at onset of menarche and depressive symptoms assessed using the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire at 14 years. Mothers provided data on father absence from the birth of the study child up to 10 years. Using structural equation modelling, we found that 15 % of the total estimated association between father absence in early childhood and depressive symptoms at 14 years was explained by early age at menarche. In addition to the mediated effect, father absence was linked to an 11 % increase in depressive symptoms in adolescence. The findings suggest that early age at menarche is one of the pathways linking early childhood father absence and depressive symptoms in mid-adolescent girls. Preventive strategies could be targeting young girls at risk for depressive symptoms as a function of stressful family factors (e.g., biological father absence) and earlier menarche.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)921-931
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Volume43
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015

Keywords

  • Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)
  • Cohort study
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Father absence
  • Timing of menarche

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