Urbanicity is Associated with Behavioral and Emotional Problems in Elementary School-Aged Children

Brittany E. Evans*, J. Marieke Buil, William J. Burk, Antonius H.N. Cillessen, Pol A.C. van Lier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Adults are 38% more likely to suffer from a psychiatric disorder when they live in an urban compared to a rural area. Urban upbringing may be particularly important. The aim of the present study was to examine whether urbanicity was independently associated with mental health in elementary school-aged children. Specifically, we investigated whether living in a more urban area was associated with exhibiting more behavioral and emotional problems, and whether this remained while controlling for other major risk factors for mental health problems in children. Data came from a Dutch general population study of children (n = 895). Information from four waves was used, in which children were aged approximately 8, 9, 11, and 12 years old. We used mixed effects models to assess the association between urbanicity and the outcomes of behavioral problems and emotional problems separately, while controlling for other major risk factors. The analyses showed that children who lived in more urban areas were significantly more likely to exhibit behavioral (p < .001) and emotional (p < .001) problems. This effect remained when controlling for neighborhood socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, family socioeconomic status, parental symptoms of psychopathology, parenting stress, and parenting practices (behavioral: p = .02, emotional: p = .009). In line with research in adults, urbanicity seems to be independently associated with behavioral and emotional problems in children. A possible underlying mechanism is that the city is a stressful environment for children to grow up in, which contributes to an increased risk for mental health problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2193–2205
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number7
Early online date29 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • Behavioral problems
  • Children
  • Emotional problems
  • Mental health
  • Urbanicity


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