Associations between parents' marital functioning, maternal parenting quality, maternal emotion and child cortisol levels

Patricia Pendry*, Emma K. Adam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


Associations between family functioning and children's stress hormone levels are explored, by examining how aspects of the interparental relationship (parents' marital satisfaction and parent conflict styles), the mother-child relationship (maternal involvement and warmth) and maternal emotional functioning (depression, anxiety and self-esteem) relate to children's cortisol levels. Parents of 63 children (32 kindergarten-aged children, 31 adolescents) completed questionnaires regarding family and individual functioning, and children's salivary cortisol samples were collected on two consecutive weekdays at home immediately upon waking and at bedtime, such that wakeup, bedtime and average levels and the slope of their diurnal cortisol rhythms could be estimated. Higher marital functioning was significantly and independently associated with lower child cortisol levels (average levels and wakeup levels), while maternal parenting quality and emotional functioning were not significant when included in the same regression model. Associations between parents' marital functioning and children's bedtime cortisol levels and diurnal slopes were moderated by child age, with higher parent marital functioning being associated with a significantly greater lowering of bedtime levels and steeper diurnal slopes for kindergarten-aged children as compared to adolescents. Higher maternal parenting quality was found to be significantly related to steeper diurnal cortisol rhythms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-231
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Child development
  • Cortisol
  • Family functioning
  • Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis
  • Marital discord
  • Stress hormones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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