Variations in the relationship between maternal depression, maternal sensitivity, and child attachment by race/ethnicity and nativity: findings from a nationally representative cohort study

Zhihuan Jennifer Huang, Amy Lewin, Stephanie J Mitchell, Jin Zhang
Maternal and Child Health Journal 2012, 16 (1): 40-50
This study uses data from the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort to examine the relationship between maternal depression, maternal sensitivity, and child attachment, specifically among Hispanic and Asian American mothers and their young children, and to explore the role of cultural variation and nativity in the associations between these variables. Data used in this study were collected from biological mothers on two occasions, when their children were approximately 9 and 24 months of age. Trained observers completed a direct assessment of child attachment security and an observational measure of maternal sensitivity, data on maternal depression was obtained via maternal report. Hierarchical logistic regression models were used to predict odds of child insecure attachment. The risk of child insecure attachment associated with chronic maternal depression was found to be much higher for Hispanic mothers than for Asians. In contrast, mothers' foreign-born status was a stronger risk factor than depression for insecure child attachment among Asian Americans. Maternal sensitivity significantly reduced the odds of Asian American children being insecurely attached by more than half. Among the full sample of mothers, which included U.S.-born non-Hispanic White mothers and U.S.-born non-Hispanic Black mothers, decreased maternal sensitivity mediated the association between chronic depression and child insecure attachment. However, this mediation was not found in stratified analyses of Hispanic and Asian mothers. Finally, mothers' nativity did not influence the extent to which maternal depression or sensitivity was associated with child attachment. These findings suggest that the associations between maternal depression, sensitivity, and child attachment are culturally specific, and that mothers' immigrant status may be a risk factor in some racial/ethnic groups but protective in others.


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