Strain of recession on family life 'meant children were less likely to get hug from parents'
The strain that the recession caused marriages, parents' relationships with their young children and to children themselves was laid bare today.
The stresses triggered depressive symptoms for some parents, which affected marital satisfaction and made them more likely to be hostile towards their children and less likely to give them a hug or to praise them.
Children's socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties were greater when the mother experienced depressive symptoms, according to the study.
After the crash hit in 2008, many families faced unemployment, difficulty in paying mortgages or household bills, had to cut back on basic necessities and were unable to afford luxuries.
Some families weathered the changed economic circumstances better than others, but 61pc of mothers reported economic strain in 2011, up from 44pc in 2008.
The insights emerge in one of two reports, reflecting the lives of nearly 9,800 children, when they were three in 2011, and again in 2013, when they were five.
The reports are based on data gathered by researchers from the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) for the Government-funded 'Growing up in Ireland' study.
The Effects of Economic Recession and Family Stress on the Adjustment of Three-year-olds report revealed 65pc of families endured a cut in household income after 2008, 14pc were in arrears on their utility bills and 9pc in arrears on their rent/mortgage.
By far the greatest impact on economic strain came about as a result of having to cut back on basic necessities, not being able to afford luxuries, and being in arrears on the rent/mortgage and utility bills.
For mothers, being in arrears on the rent or mortgage was a significant source of strain, with 24pc in that bracket classified as depressed, compared with 10pc where the family was not in arrears.
Dr Elizabeth Nixon, assistant professor in TCD and lead author of the report, said the findings suggested that economic hardship had important negative effects on the mental health of parents and the quality of the relationship between parents, which may spill over to affect how parents interact with their young children.
She said support for the well-being of parents was particularly important when they were facing economic stress, and the research indicated that it would facilitate positive parenting.
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said First Five, Ireland first-ever cross-departmental strategy to support babies, young children and their families, was committed to tackling early childhood poverty and developing a new model of parenting support.
The second report, 'The Lives of 5-year-olds', presents a generally positive picture, but lead author Dr Aisling Murray said it also highlighted how early inequalities - linked to socio-economic disadvantage - were already detectable in areas such as health, learning and well-being.
As noted in previous waves of 'Growing up in Ireland', the percentage of five-year-olds who were overweight is a cause of concern, with 20pc unhealthily heavy - 15pc were classed as overweight and 5pc obese.
Mothers described 18pc of children as having a longstanding illness, condition or disability, although not necessarily diagnosed.