Income disparity in school readiness and the mediating role of perinatal maternal mental health: A longitudinal birth cohort study

E. C. Law, R. Aishworiya, S. Cai, A. A. Bouvette-Turcot, B. F. P. Broekman, H. Chen, L. M. Daniel, P. D. Gluckman, L. P. C. Shek, S. K. H. Tay, Y. S. Chong, G. C. H. Koh, M. J. Meaney

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Aims: There is compelling evidence for gradient effects of household income on school readiness. Potential mechanisms are described, yet the growth curve trajectory of maternal mental health in a child's early life has not been thoroughly investigated. We aimed to examine the relationships between household incomes, maternal mental health trajectories from antenatal to the postnatal period, and school readiness. Methods: Prospective data from 505 mother-child dyads in a birth cohort in Singapore were used, including household income, repeated measures of maternal mental health from pregnancy to 2-years postpartum, and a range of child behavioural, socio-emotional and cognitive outcomes from 2 to 6 years of age. Antenatal mental health and its trajectory were tested as mediators in the latent growth curve models. Results: Household income was a robust predictor of antenatal maternal mental health and all child outcomes. Between children from the bottom and top household income quartiles, four dimensions of school readiness skills differed by a range of 0.52 (95% Cl: 0.23, 0.67) to 1.21 s.d. (95% CI: 1.02, 1.40). Thirty-eight percent of pregnant mothers in this cohort were found to have perinatal depressive and anxiety symptoms in the subclinical and clinical ranges. Poorer school readiness skills were found in children of these mothers when compared to those of mothers with little or no symptoms. After adjustment of unmeasured confounding on the indirect effect, antenatal maternal mental health provided a robust mediating path between household income and multiple school readiness outcomes (χ2 126.05, df 63, p < 0.001; RMSEA = 0.031, CFI = 0.980, SRMR = 0.034). Conclusions: Pregnant mothers with mental health symptoms, particularly those from economically-challenged households, are potential targets for intervention to level the playing field of their children.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere6
JournalEpidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Household income
  • maternal mental health
  • perinatal mood
  • school readiness

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