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The extent and specificity of relative age effects on mental health and functioning in early adolescence

Patalay, P; Belsky, J; Fonagy, P; Vostanis, P; Humphrey, N; Deighton, J; Wolpert, M; (2015) The extent and specificity of relative age effects on mental health and functioning in early adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health , 57 (5) pp. 475-481. 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.07.012. Green open access

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Although extensive evidence indicates that being younger within a school cohort is associated with poorer academic functioning, much less is known about such relative-age effects (RAEs) for mental health. METHODS: Data from 23,378 11-13 year olds attending state-maintained secondary schools in England were analysed to investigate RAEs on mental health measured using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Participants were grouped into oldest, middle and youngest thirds of their academic year based on their month of birth relative to their cohort. Hierarchical linear regression analysis evaluated RAEs and gender- or deprivation-related moderation of such effects. RESULTS: Relatively younger adolescents had significantly more emotional symptoms and peer problems compared to relatively older individuals in a year group, though effect sizes were small. These effects were not moderated by gender or deprivation. Impact of mental health difficulties on other aspects of functioning were also greater among relatively younger children. Larger RAEs are observed in the younger cohort (11-12 years) compared to in the 12-13 year olds, thereby indicating that RAEs might attenuate with age. CONCLUSION: Being relatively younger than classmates is associated with increased internalising symptoms, poorer peer relationships, and higher impact of mental health difficulties on functioning at school and home. The findings support wider inclusion of relative age in understanding mental health difficulties and its inclusion as a potential risk factor in studies investigating the development of psychopathology, especially for internalising symptoms. Possible mechanisms of the effects detected are discussed.

Type: Article
Title: The extent and specificity of relative age effects on mental health and functioning in early adolescence
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.07.012
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.07.012
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Age within cohort, Relative age, Wellbeing, Children, School
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Pop Health Sciences > Institute of Cardiovascular Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1470241
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