Overview: The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns impacted girls’ mental health more than boys, researchers report. Girls’ emotional and behavioral problems increased by 1.6% compared to boys, and this was more pronounced in girls of lower socioeconomic background.
Source: City University London
A new study by universities including City, University of London, shows girls’ mental health was more affected than boys by the Covid-19 pandemic and the spate of associated school and childcare closures.
Girls’ overall emotional and behavioral problems increased by 1,619 points more than boys (corresponding to 28% of a standard deviation). Moreover, the sex differences were more pronounced in lower-income families.
Girls from lower-income families experienced a 2,162 point (37% of a standard deviation) higher increase in emotional and behavioral problems during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the gender difference in higher-income families was 1,306 points (22% of a standard deviation).
Before the pandemic, there was no difference in overall difficulty by gender. During the pandemic, overall difficulties increased in girls, but not in boys.
The research – by academics from City, University of London, University of Wollongong (Australia) and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (Australia) – is based on data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), better known as the Understanding Society. The UKHLS includes responses from approximately 40,000 households.
In April 2020, all UKHLS respondents were invited to participate in a new Covid-19 survey, asking about the impact of the pandemic.
The participants who accepted the invitation were surveyed once a month (every two months from July 2020). Researchers used all Covid-19 surveys available to date that contain information about children’s mental well-being (July, September and November 2020 and March 2021).
The UKHLS Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) scores were used in the study as a measure of children’s mental well-being. The SDQ is a behavioral screening questionnaire for children, comprising 25 questions covering five areas: hyperactivity/inattentiveness, emotional symptoms, behavioral problems, problems with peer relationships, and pro-social behavior.
The answers to these questions (excluding those about prosocial behavior) were added together to create a ‘total difficulty’ score from 0 to 40. In each UKHLS wave, parents answer the SDQ for 5- and 8-year-old children. In every second round, children aged 10 to 15 complete the SDQ themselves.
In the Covid-19 survey, parents completed the SDQ for 5-11-year-old children, and 10-15-year-old children completed the SDQ themselves in selected waves. The study’s analysis focused primarily on children ages 10 to 15, whose responses to the SDQ are expected to more accurately measure their mental well-being.
dr. Agne Suziedelyte, a study co-author based in the City’s Department of Economics, said:
“The results of the study indicate strong gender-related effects, with emotional and behavioral problems increasing more in 10-15-year-old girls than in boys during the Covid-19 pandemic compared to the years before the pandemic.
“Gender differences in the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental well-being were observed across all income groups, although these differences are more noticeable in lower-income families.”
The study shows a greater increase in girls compared to boys across most domains of the SDQ (emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, behavioral problems and peer problems). Behavioral problems have declined in both boys and girls during the pandemic, but more so in boys.
About this psychology and COVID-19 research news
Original research: Open access.
†Have any girls been left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic? Gender Differences in Pandemic Effects on Children’s Mental Well-Beingby Agne Suziedelyte et al. Economy Letters
Have any girls been left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic? Gender Differences in Pandemic Effects on Children’s Mental Well-Being
Using data from the UK, we show that girls have been affected more than boys by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of their mental well-being.
These sex differences are more pronounced in lower-income families.
Our results are consistent with previous findings of greater pandemic impacts on women’s mental health.
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