Psychological Medicine

Research Article

Loss of parent in childhood and adult psychiatric disorder: the role of social class position and premarital pregnancy

Tirril Harrisa1 c1, George W. Browna1 and Antonia Bifulcoa1

a1 Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway Bedford New College, London


This paper addresses the critique which maintains that loss of parent in a sample of female adults plays no role in determining current depression over and above that of low social class position with which such loss is associated. It examines a series of variables which combine to determine current social class position and which seem to stem from lack of adequate replacement care following loss of mother. The experience of a premarital pregnancy and the way in which women cope with it emerge as critical in this process. The relationship of low social class to the onset of depression is discussed in the light of better-known vulnerability factors such as low confiding in, and undependability of, marital partner, employment outside the home and number of children. It is concluded that a current low social class position, far from explaining away the association between loss of mother and current depression, may itself be brought about by a chain of circumstances stemming from the loss. Once again, the quality of replacement care is shown to play a critical role.


c1 Address for correspondence: Tirril Harris, Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, (University of London), 11 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3RA