Childhood exposure to emotional abuse and later life stress among Kenyan women: a mediation analysis of cross-sectional data

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


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

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
StateAccepted/In press - Dec 29 2016



  • Emotional abuse
  • Kenya
  • mediation
  • perceived stress
  • social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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