Background and objective:

We explore whether perceived stress among Kenyan mothers is predicted by childhood exposure to emotional abuse – both witnessed among parents and experienced directly. Further, we explore whether this association is mediated by social support, family functioning and polygynous marriage.


We used cross-sectional data from a systematic random sample (n?=?1974) of mothers in semi-rural Kenya.


Data were collected using validated scales and trained interviewers. Analyses were conducted using bootstrapped structural equation models and fixed-effects linear regression models, controlling for age and household wealth.

Results: Reported experience of emotional abuse – both directly experienced and observed among household adults – was high in the present population (72.5% and 69%, respectively). Perceived stress among women was significantly higher if they were exposed to more emotional abuse during childhood (p?<?.001). Lower social support, worse family functioning and higher rates of polygynous marriage mediated pathways between emotional abuse exposure during childhood and adult perceived stress.


Future research should investigate whether social integration, identity formation and self-esteem underlie observed dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Efforts to promote social integration and support should target children currently experiencing emotional abuse, and may include child-targeted high quality television programing and adult-targeted media and celebrity campaigns.
Journal of Anxiety, Stress, & Coping

09 September 2016

Michael L. Goodman, Claudia Gutarra, Katherine M. Billingsley, Philip H. Keiser & Stanley Gitari