Summary: Researchers report that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have affected the mental health of girls more than boys. Emotional and behavioral difficulties for girls increased by 1.6% compared to boys, and this was more pronounced in girls from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
source: City University of London
A new study by universities, including City University of London, shows that girls’ mental health has been affected more than boys by the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated wave of school and childcare closures.
The sum of emotional and behavioral difficulties for girls increased by 1.619 points compared to boys (equivalent to 28% standard deviation). Moreover, gender differences were more pronounced in lower-income families.
Girls from low-income families experienced a 2,162-point higher (37% standard deviation) increase in emotional and behavioral difficulties during the epidemic. Meanwhile, in higher-income families, the gender difference was 1,306 points (22% standard deviation).
Before the epidemic, there was no difference in total difficulties by gender. During the pandemic, overall difficulties increased among girls, but not among boys.
The study – conducted by academics from City, University of London, University of Wollongong (Australia) and Royal Melbourne Institute of University of Technology (Australia) – is based on data from the UK Longitudinal Family Study (UKHLS), known as the Understanding Society. UKHLS has responses from around 40,000 households.
In April 2020, all UKHLS participants were invited to take part in a new Covid-19 survey, which includes questions about the impact of the pandemic.
Participants who accepted the invitation were surveyed once a month (every two months of July 2020). The researchers used all available Covid-19 surveys to date that included information about children’s mental health (July, September, November 2020 and March 2021).
As a measure of a child’s mental well-being, the study used scores from the UKHLS Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The SDQ is a children’s behavioral screening questionnaire, which includes 25 questions covering five areas: hyperactivity/inattention, emotional symptoms, behavior problems, peer relationship problems, and pro-social behavior.
The answers to these questions (excluding those on prosocial behavior) are summarized to create a ‘total difficulties’ score ranging from 0 to 40. In each wave of UKHLS tests, parents answer the SDQ for 5- and 8-year-old children. In each second wave, children aged 10 to 15 years complete the SDQ on their own.
In the Covid-19 survey, parents completed an SDQ for children aged 5-11 years, and children aged 10-15 years completed a self-SDQ in select waves. The study’s analysis mainly focused on children aged 10 to 15, and their responses to the SDQ are expected to measure their mental health more accurately.
Study co-author Dr. Agni Susidelet, based in the city’s Department of Economics, said:
The research findings suggest strong gender influences, with emotional and behavioral difficulties being greater among 10-15-year-old girls than boys during the Covid-19 pandemic than in the pre-pandemic years.
“Gender differences in the impact of the epidemic on children’s mental health are observed across all income groups, although these differences are more prominent in lower-income families.”
The study shows a greater increase among girls than boys in most areas of the SDQ (emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, behavior problems, and peer problems). Behavior problems decreased among both boys and girls during the epidemic, but more so among boys.
About this Psychology and COVID-19 research news
author: Chris Lines
source: City University of London
Contact: Chris Lines – City University London
picture: The image is in the public domain
original search: open access.
“Are girls left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic? Gender differences in epidemiological effects on children’s mental health” by Agne Suziedelyte et al. Economy Letters
Have girls been left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic? Gender differences in epidemiological effects on children’s mental health
Using data from the UK, we show that girls are more affected than boys by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of their mental health.
These gender differences are more pronounced in low-income families.
Our results are consistent with previous findings of larger epidemiological effects on women’s mental health.